Despite his youth and preference for takeout, Auston Matthews is treating the playoffs seriously

You've got to hand it to Auston Matthews for the way he has handled pressure in his rookie season. Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

It is the great juxtaposition of Auston Matthews, franchise savior, that hammers home the beyond-his-years development on the ice and the fact you can't speed it up off the ice.

He's still a kid when tucked away in his downtown condo playing video games in his downtime. As he should be.

No greater example came than when his father, Brian, flew in for a homestand recently and, well, walked into what you might think a 19-year-old's pad would look like after a lack of supervision.

"It was a semi-disaster," said Brian, who lived with Matthews during most of the Toronto Maple Leafs' homestands. "There were takeout containers piled up."

The young center's face reddened Tuesday when told of his father's comment.

"You get pretty tired during the season and, yeah, the takeout containers kind of start filling up," Matthews said, laughing.

"But I think I'm pretty responsible with that kind of stuff. I know my parents will come in and clean up as much as they can. There's a fine line, I guess, between what they think is clean and what I think is clean."

But cook his own meal?

"I don't," Matthews said sheepishly. "I don't cook for myself. Hence the takeout boxes."

OK, then, what's his go-to takeout?

"Well, there's a good sushi place near my place," he said. "UberEats is always nice. They've got some good stuff on there."

Matthews and the young Leafs, 30th overall a year ago, are the heaviest of underdogs going up against the NHL's No. 1-ranked team, the Washington Capitals, in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Game 1 goes Thursday night in Washington.

If there's any chance of an upset, No. 34 will be at the heart of it. This is the same kid, with unrelenting hype surrounding him before the season, who went out and scored four goals against the Ottawa Senators in his first NHL game. Since then it has been a rookie season for the ages.

"We don't want to dip our toe into the water, we want to hit the ground running," Matthews said of playing the heavily favored Capitals. "You can't be afraid to step in, have fun. It's going to be an exciting series."

Matthews scored 40 goals in his first NHL season, the most by a rookie since Alex Ovechkin's 52 in 2005-06, and second this season only to the 44 goals put up by Pittsburgh Penguins great Sidney Crosby.

This is the beauty of what's unfolding in front of our eyes. Matthews, the player, is growing faster than anyone could have predicted. Matthews, the young man, is growing at the exact normal pace of any 19-year-old.

"Toronto has embraced him, he's embraced it, so he's not playing for himself, he's playing for those two entities," Brian said. "That has helped make things easier through the ups and downs."

And now, the playoffs. Against the best team in hockey.

So why not embrace a playoff series so few people are giving the Leafs any chance to win?

"What is there to be afraid of? It's just hockey," Matthews said. "I mean, everybody in this locker room loves the game and wants to do their best. There's nothing to be afraid of. Going out there, play the way you play, play for the guy across from you, play to have fun, and hopefully get the best result in the end."

Even though he's spending lots of time playing video games during his downtime on a team full of rookies doesn't mean he's incapable of flipping the switch.

"All of us, when we're at the rink you take it seriously, you get on the ice it means business," said the Scottsdale, Arizona, product. "You want to have fun, but you have a job to do. I think away from the rink, we find ourselves pretty laid-back, we like to joke around. Like you said, we're 19-, 20-year-old kids; it's not hard to find yourself back in that mode."

Matthews has worked hard this season at becoming a better player without the puck. That's normally something a young offensive star will start to focus on after a few years in the league. Early in the season, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock showed video to the young center of Crosby and Detroit Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg playing without the puck, how they knew where to position themselves.

Matthews soaked it up like a sponge.

"He plays the game the right way," Maple Leafs teammate Brian Boyle said. "He's a horse. I think he wants to be a complete player, just judging from the way he practices and when he plays. It's really impressive to see it. You score 40 goals in this league, I don't care how old you are, you should have a little swagger. He's a confident kid, but he's a humble kid who just works really, really hard. It's just so impressive."

Now it's time for playoff mode. A whole new challenge. The first overall pick in 2016 feels ready for it.

"This is an exciting time for him," Brian Matthews said. "Even [down the stretch], we were saying to him, 'This is when you're playing for all the marbles, this is when you have to step up and not necessarily put the team on your back, but you need to be one of those players that's pulling and not just sitting on the bus going on for the ride.' So it'll be interesting to see now in the playoffs. I think he's always been able to step up his game when things are on the edge and when things count.

"Obviously, this is a different league, the best league in the world, the best players in the world, so you just don't know how he's going to respond. But so far he's done a good job and his whole team has done a great job."

The best player in the world, for one, has been impressed.

"I think the maturity," Crosby said last weekend, surrounded by Toronto media, when asked what jumped out to him about Matthews. "His game is so well-rounded. He's a guy that can score goals but I think he plays away from the puck, he's strong on the puck, and he scores goals different ways, which is probably a bigger reason why he's been so consistent this season.

"He's got a great shot but he can also score from in close and he goes to the net hard, too. I think he's just showed a lot of maturity with his game."

There's that word again, maturity.

Just don't ask him to cook an omelet.