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Rick Zamperin: See Toronto, the Maple Leafs can win without Auston Matthews

Without the injured Auston Matthews on the ice, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Minnesota Wild 4-2 Wednesday night.
Without the injured Auston Matthews on the ice, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Minnesota Wild 4-2 Wednesday night. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Wednesday night provided the Maple Leafs with an opportunity to see what life is like without their best player on the ice.

Auston Matthews sat out with an upper-body injury and missed his first NHL game since Toronto drafted him first overall in 2016.

And the Leafs responded with a hard-fought 4-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.

READ MORE: Rick Zamperin: Will the Maple Leafs figure out how to play defence?

With his No. 1 centre on the sidelines, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said that his team would have to “dig in,” and they did.

The Buds were boosted by the efforts of goalie Frederik Anderson and their forwards and defencemen were more responsible in their own end while getting a couple of fortunate bounces.

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That’s not to say they didn’t miss their 20-year-old wonder kid.

Heading into Wednesday night’s game, Toronto outscored opponents 18-5 at even strength this season when Matthews is on the ice, but have been outscored 36-24 when he’s not out there.

The scary thing for the rest of the NHL is that if the Maple Leafs ever figure out how to put it all together, a.k.a. learn how to play at both ends of the rink, look out.

But in order to get there, No. 34 will definitely need to be on the ice.

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