Mitch Marner isn’t big. He’s not physical. He’s a wizard who has spent his whole life eluding and out-thinking and being better than the thugs and limpets and creeping vines in hockey who try, above all else, to pull skill down to a level they can understand.But skill isn’t everything in hockey, and so at the end of Toronto’s 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series, Marner was staring down David Pastrnak 10 feet away, with the final seconds ticking off the clock. Leafs winger Andreas Johnsson scored what turned out to be the winning goal Monday as Toronto held on for the final 20 minutes to win 3-2 and take a 2-1 series lead. (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star)Marner already had a power-play assist, and was given penalty-killing duties this year because his brains allow him to compete there. As teammate Morgan Rielly said the other day, “He’s a great player, he can cause problems, he’s very creative, he plays well with his teammates, (and) he plays defence, too. That’s the best part about him is that he comes back and he’s responsible.”Pastrnak had to shoot, and Marner turned like he was in a gunfight. The first shot hit him in the shin as he turned into it, knocking him down. The puck bounced back to Pastrnak and he shot again, last chance, closer: Marner stuck out his left leg and blocked it again. Leafs 3, Bruins 2. A 2-1 series lead, and Marner’s teammates mobbed him at the horn.“It was great,” said Zach Hyman, Marner’s linemate. “It shows the type of player he is: He’s got all the skill in the world and he’s willing to eat one two feet away from Pastrnak. So great a player to have, fun playing with him.”“Ideally,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said, “all those things are contagious.”It was a sharp demonstration of what happens when Toronto marries its skill to will and competitive determination, and it was a part of why they lead this series. It was the end of a game that bore almost no resemblance to Game 2, which hardly resembled Game 1. The officials reset the refereeing standard in game 2 from Straight Up to Goat Rodeo, and the Bruins ran the Leafs out of the building. It was a reminder: Boston is plenty skilled, but they’re plenty skilled at smashing skill, too.And in Game 3 it was tighter, both in terms of the refs and in terms of the game, and the 5-on-5 goals were scored less than a minute apart, early in the second. The other three were power-play goals, all scored in the second half of the second. And the rest was who would control the game.Maple Leaf Square was full an hour before puck drop for Game 3 of Leafs vs. Bruins Round 1 playoff action at Scotiabank Arena. (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star)With centre Nazem Kadri suspended for the rest of the series, and with better ice than in Boston and a more defined rulebook, the Leafs skated and competed with poise, and suddenly Boston’s suffocating physicality wasn’t so suffocating. It didn’t look like 200 feet of bullying anymore. “In the third we didn’t give them a lot either,” said Andreas Johnsson, who scored the winning goal on a puck dug out expertly by John Tavares. “We stayed tight.”Not coincidentally, Boston’s brilliant top line was kept under control for the second time in three games. With Toronto controlling last change, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak saw the same matchup as in Game 1: Tavares, Marner, Hyman, and the pair of Jake Muzzin and Nikita Zaitsev. Boston’s best were outplayed, and kept off the scoresheet for the first time in the series. That’s how you win.The Leafs’ Andreas Johnsson, left, avoids a check from the Boston Bruins’ Charlie McAvoy in Game 3 on Monday. (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)“(Tavares) works as if he doesn’t have that skill, and when you combine that work ethic with the skills that he has, you get Johnny,” Hyman said. “When you’re with him, you can play against anyone in the league and go up and match up.”That work ethic has extended to the line, and in Games 1 and 3, to the Leafs. Tavares and the whole line have ignored Marchand’s occasional attempts at annoyance — “I don’t think I’ve seen anyone get under (Tavares’s) skin all year,” said Hyman — and between Marner and Tavares, with Hyman grinding alongside them, the Leafs have a matchup in this series that is astonishingly effective, considering how Boston’s top line killed them last year.“I think they’re still great players … it’s just a matter of us handling it a bit differently and us being more comfortable in that position,” defenceman Morgan Rielly said.“That’s why you bring in Johnny,” said Hyman.Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen keeps his eye on the rebound as the Leafs’ Ron Hainsey clears away the Boston Bruins’ Charlie Coyle. (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)So Toronto leads the clash of civilizations. Before the game, bruising Boston veteran David Backes said, “Their skill might — obviously, not from a skill guy — but their skill might outweigh ours in a direct skill competition. They’ve got some guys who can fly and finish and have high-end talent. We certainly have that as well, but it might tilt a little bit in their direction.“But the physical game might tilt a little bit in our direction … to be in their face and know that it’s coming every single shift. And maybe a little bit more squeezing of the sticks. You know, to make a 150-foot pass that’s on the tape to a guy that’s in stride takes all your concentration, and if you’re thinking about other things happening or hits coming then maybe you can’t be as concentrated on the play that you’re making.“It’s that never-ending pendulum that’s swinging one way, the other way: What’s going to win out at the end?”The Leafs swung the pendulum their way Monday, with skill and ferocity. They’re learning.Bruce Arthur is a Toronto-based sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @bruce_arthurSPORTS ACTION AND RE-ACTION DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX.