Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s elimination in Game 5 of the playoff qualifying round versus Columbus.
On the lineup adjustments:
I suspect you are just asking about Johnsson coming in? That was a simple one for me. He felt ready. Obviously, with what is at stake here today, we wanted to have him be a part of it. He is an important player for us and he has worked really hard to be ready to play. If he didn’t play today, he likely would have played had we won and played Game 1 of the next series. We figured we would use him today.
In terms of what we got from our group, I think we had good performances from some people. We had a group of others that I didn’t think performed at their best. That is pretty typical. It is pretty rare that you are going to have everybody going. I thought we had enough out of the people that were important — obviously, with the exception of the puck going over the line.
On keeping the Matthews – Tavares – Marner line together vs. balancing the lineup:
We’ve obviously found it difficult throughout this series to generate offense and get chances. I thought that our best opportunity to do so would be to have those guys playing together. Also, I liked Will in the middle when we made the change in Game 4. Plus the fact that in Games 3 and 4 in particular, our second line was getting outplayed pretty badly. All of those things combine. I wanted to go with that today.
I made the change to go back in the third period to it just to try to see if we could tax their defense a little bit more and have some benefit there, but that didn’t seem to work, either. We went back to it.
On whether anything surprised him about Columbus’ team in the series:
I would say — and it’s not necessarily in this series — as we really broke down the video preparing for the series and then watching them in the exhibition game, for myself, that was the first time I had seen them live. I had never coached against them. The biggest surprise for me would just be their skill level throughout their lineup. There is a lot of focus on their defense with Jones and Werenski, but they’ve got a really high skill level on forward.
Obviously, Dubois is the game-breaker for them, but it’s a real high skill level. It doesn’t necessarily show up on the scoresheet all of the time, but they are really good in possession. They hold onto the puck. They can make a play. They put it to good spots. They play with good intelligence. Their forwards are really, really good in those areas of the game.
Then, obviously, there is seeing first hand the fact that Weresnki and Jones are as good of a d-pair as there is in the NHL.
On the team’s 12.5% odds in the draft lottery tomorrow:
I am obviously not fixated on it one bit. It’s the next thing on the calendar for us. I will be paying attention to it, but I will be thinking about this one for quite a while.
On what he wants the core of the team to learn from the experience:
I think it is raw. For any type of question like that, there is going to be ample time for me to answer that and probably give you a better answer — a more in-depth and insightful one. Right now, I am focused on tonight’s game and the disappointment of not getting this done. I am happy to answer any questions on that, but anything beyond, I think we’ll hold that for the next time I see you guys.
On his reflections on the series and lack of puck luck around the net:
Hats off to Columbus for the effort they put forth in this series. It is a good team. It doesn’t give you much. They saw absolutely, fully committed to what they are as a group.
If I reflect on the series for myself, I think there were lots of positives in this series; there were lots of things that we would have liked to have done better and I would have liked to have done better. We really challenged our team coming into this to be better defensively and give ourselves a chance and not beat ourselves.
I think, when I look at two of our three losses here tonight and in Game 1, I think we did a really good job of that — playing a patient game, not beating ourselves, not giving up much. The difference in Games 1 and 5, obviously, are three of what I would call somewhat lucky goals. We didn’t get quite the same level of luck around the net. Columbus defended extremely well and didn’t give us a great deal, but we had enough chances to score more goals than we did with the two shutouts we had. A little more luck, and it might have been a different result.
I am not sure where it is going to finish up, but we ended up shooting at about 2% at 5–on-5. For a team like ours to score on 2% of its chances, everybody coming into the series would say it is pretty unlikely. That is the way that it went.