Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens that officially clinched a 2021 playoff berth and improved the Leafs’ record to 30-13-5 on the season.
On Joe Thornton hitting 1,100 assists, Jason Spezza tying Maurice Richard in points, and his appreciation of two of the game’s all-time greats playing on his fourth line:
I had those moments [of appreciation] tonight. Those guys were in the offensive zone snapping the puck around to each other. It is a cool thing. Those guys have accomplished a great deal. They have been elite, elite players for a very long time. To have them on the team for us in that role and being such great leaders for us is outstanding. It is very cool for them to have their own moments here today. They are both very special, of course.
1,100 assists is a lot of assists. I was telling Joe I don’t think I touched the puck 1,100 times in my time in the NHL. 1,100 assists is pretty substantial. That is four Soo Greyhounds on that [all-time assists] list, too. That is also substantial and outstanding.
On what he appreciated about the highlight-reel goal Auston Matthews scored:
I appreciate that he bailed out Nick Foligno for forcing a puck into the middle of the ice that could’ve been a real bad turnover for us. He picked it off and turned it into a goal. It was a sign of the type of night that it was. Things were going our way early there.
It was a great goal. To be honest, I still can’t say that I’ve seen it, as I was not very impressed with the play before that. I’m happy it worked out for us.
On clinching a playoff spot and whether it feels like a milestone this season:
It is. We’ve felt like a playoff team here for quite a long time here, but you still have to accomplish it. We said to our team before the game tonight that with the way it looked like it was shaping up in Ottawa, we have an opportunity. We were here tonight with an opportunity to do it on our terms. We may as well get it done and take care of that piece of business.
It is part of the journey. You also have to reflect on it and feel good about it. It is a good accomplishment to do it here with games remaining on the schedule and to be the first team in the division to accomplish that. It is a great thing.
The guys have worked hard through a very challenging and unique season. You do have to acknowledge that. We spoke about it before the game. We said, “Let’s get it done tonight.” We acknowledged it after the game. We also acknowledged that we are working towards bigger things.
It is a nice accomplishment, but we are going to be continuing to work towards building our team to be ready when it counts the most.
On the decision not to challenge the Nick Suzuki goal:
It was really close. It looked really close on my first glance at it on the bench. They were taking a closer look at it back in the dressing room — our video guys — and we wanted to try to buy a little bit of time. It definitely looked like it was close.
Ultimately, with the limited views that we had and the time that we had, we just determined it was close but not one we were certain on. I just felt, at that time, a two-goal lead with less than a half of game left, we will take that instead of the risk of putting them on the power play for a chance to really turn the momentum.
We just kind of made that decision based on the information we had at that time. I am not sure what has been out there on the broadcast, but from what I have seen, I haven’t seen anything definitive on it.
On the team’s ability to generate offensive-zone time, particularly the first and fourth lines:
I thought we had some moments in the game. In the second and third period, I thought we did a good job of that. In the first period, I really don’t think we did that well at all, actually. I didn’t think we spent much time in their end at all, especially in the second half once we made it 2-0. The second half of the first period was a struggle for us in that sense.
I liked the fact that even when the shots were piling up and it looked like they were getting life, I don’t think we gave up a great deal. They got behind us a couple of times, but I thought we defended real well today. I thought our defense moved the puck really well and helped us get out of our end relatively cleanly.