On an off-day on Saturday, head coach Sheldon Keefe addressed the team’s monumental comeback victory in Game 4, Morgan Rielly’s play over the last couple of games (66 minutes TOI in the last 2 GP), preparing for Game 5, and Jason Spezza’s leadership role on the team.
Have the last couple of games underlined that the three-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey? What are you expecting in Game 5?
Keefe: Certainly, the last couple of games, a 3-0 lead has proven interesting. I think what we have come to expect, really, is that each game — despite there being some similarities — really has its own personality. The key for us, of course, is to ride the momentum into the next game here tomorrow, but recognize that it is a fresh scoreboard. The teams have had time to regroup here. We’ve got to start anew.
Going into an elimination game now, going back to what you think you deserve based on how you have played, does this team deserve better than what it has gotten so far? What do you look at when you say, “deserved?”
Keefe: I just look at how we have looked here. Even at times when we haven’t liked our team game or the structure hasn’t been what I expect from our team, I think we have had some individual performances that have been really good and are not always showing up on the scoresheet. It has generally been a pretty low-scoring series, but just the effort and the commitment that we are seeing from some guys, I think, are at a higher level than what we have seen from them before. That is what we have been asking for.
Those are the types of things where I am saying I think we deserve it, but that is playoffs, right? On the other side, I am sure they would have many players that they feel the same way about and they feel the same way about their team. It is such a fine line between winning and losing. That is just the way that it goes.
When I look back on it and what we have been through here, we have seen really good progress in the areas that we wanted to improve upon at the beginning of camp. I think that has given us a chance to win games. That is very positive for us here, so we are going to be looking to bring as much as we can here to the final game and really look to bring the whole thing together.
What impact do you think last night’s win might have on the psyche, confidence, and mindset of the group moving forward?
Keefe: It is like I was saying. It is a huge boost for us. It gives us positive momentum. The feeling after the game was tremendous. The amount of joy that I saw from our team was beyond anything that I have seen from us. The moment reflected that. We have to bring that momentum forward but recognize that it is a new game.
We have to have a better start than we did yesterday. We have to recognize that the opposition is going to reset themselves. Both teams are going to leave it all out there tomorrow.
Can you speak to what it has meant to have Jason Spezza in the room — not just the leadership and experience he brings, but the hunger to win?
Keefe: I think it means a great deal. It was on display yesterday. The fight, of course, is the big one that stands out, but he and his line were tremendous for us. You look at the goalie-out situation. We were using basically six guys with the goalie out, and then we were using Spezza’s line — the fourth line. That is what we were using in the final four minutes of the game. It speaks to how they were competing and the impact they were making on the game yesterday.
It is a credit to that entire line, but Spezz definitely brings a lot to our group. Through this whole pause and getting our team organized and motivated, I think it goes, frankly, beyond just our team. The Players Association, he had a very strong voice in that as well. He was very hungry to come back and play. He wasn’t going down yesterday without leaving it all out there. It will be no different for him and the rest of our group tomorrow.
To what degree do you now think about keeping Matthews, Marner, and Tavares together tomorrow if at all?
Keefe: Like you said, yesterday’s circumstances called for it a little bit. As I’ve said all along, I like the look of that line and what it brings. It does have impacts on the remainder of the lineup, so that is something for us to consider. We haven’t spent a great deal of time on that piece of it here today as a coaching staff. We are going to have those discussions on not just that situation but on our other lines and what is best here now that things swing a little bit back and we will have last change now and all of that kind of stuff.
What have you learned about Morgan Rielly that has given you the confidence to play him as much as you have and in the different situations that you have?
Keefe: He is just getting better and better every game. He seems to be more comfortable in his skating. Certainly, in the last two games, the way he skated up and down the ice getting involved offensively and defensively, he looks really, really comfortable in that regard. In my mind, he has taken a really big step here, in particular, since our loss of Muzz.