After comfortably handling the Montreal Canadiens last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs, now cemented into a playoff spot, return home to face a tired Canucks team whose slim playoff chances are quickly dissipating (7:30 p.m. EST, TSN4/Sportsnet Pacific).
After losing their last two games to Ottawa in regulation (2-1 and 6-3), the Canucks incredibly difficult season has only gotten worse — they’ve now fallen below the Sens and sit in last place in the North Division.
Vancouver’s two wins against the Leafs right after returning from their team-wide Covid outbreak may end up being the only bright spot in their return to play. They still have 13 games remaining, nearly double what many teams have left, but their playoff chances have fallen to just 6%, according to hockeyviz.com.
Looking to add some energy and offensive ability to the lineup at a time when his team desperately needs it, Travis Green will introduce rookie Kole Lind to his first NHL game tonight. A 33rd overall pick in 2017, Lind played eight games in the AHL this season (five goals, three assists) after posting 44 points in 61 games at that level last season (14 goals, 30 assists). Lind will likely join a line with Brandon Sutter and sophomore Zach MacEwen.
Having given Thatcher Demko the start last night, the Canucks have saved Braden Holtby for tonight, hoping that he can continue his hot streak while making it three-straight wins against the Maple Leafs. He gave up two goals in Monday’s loss to the Sens but has a 3-1 record since Vancouver’s return with a .933 save percentage.
For the Leafs, David Rittich will make his first start since an ugly showing cost the Leafs in the third period of their game last Tuesday in Vancouver. In his two starts prior to that, Rittich gave up seven goals on 58 shots but did have a solid relief performance against Winnipeg in between.
The Leafs have lost four of their first seven to Vancouver this season (all defeats coming away from home), including a pair of two-game sweeps out West. On home ice, the Leafs swept the Canucks three straight back in early February. With a playoff spot now locked in, if Toronto can take care of business tonight and on Saturday, it will go a long way towards securing their next regular-season objective by putting the North Division title race firmly in hand.
As Sheldon Keefe announced late this afternoon, there will be some big changes to the Leafs lineup tonight, as some regulars will rest while Timothy Liljegren gets his first action of the season and Ben Hutton makes his Leafs debut:
Sheldon Keefe said Muzzin, Rielly, Foligno and Campbell will have "maintenance days" and not play tonight.
Hutton, Liljegren, Engvall and Hutchinson will be in.
David Rittich starts.
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) April 29, 2021
Game Day Quotes
Travis Green on his team’s sluggishness last night:
I think you’re talking about the tired factor. I thought we looked a little tired last night — sometimes you come out on the [second of a] back-to-back and you feel better. I said it last night, if you’re tired, you’ve still got to find ways to win in this league. Toronto played last night as well.
Our guys are excited to play. We didn’t get the result we wanted last night, but our group still believes in what they’re doing. If you look at the standing and you look at the games, they should — rightfully so.
Green on Kole Lind receiving his first NHL game tonight:
I’m not putting Kole Lind in just so he can get a game under his belt. I’m putting him in because I think he can help us win. You know, when you look at the standings, we’re two games under .500, Montreal is three games over .500 — that can change fast. This is not about Kole Lind just getting a free game. He’s going in because he can help us win and give us a shot of energy.
He looks, to me, more confident than the last time I saw him. He’s got nice hands, he’s creative in practice, and he’s got a good shot. It’s no secret that we’ve been struggling to score – struggling to create — but I’ve also got to find the right spot for him. Knowing it’s his first game in the NHL and seeing how he looks from the start of the game, we’ll work him in accordingly.
I’m not sure where he projects. We’re going to have to see where he’s is at the NHL level. I don’t think we need to worry about making an assessment or judgement about where this young man projects yet. Let’s see how he is tonight, put him in some positions to succeed, and get him through his first game and not worry about long-term things about whether he projects as a second, third, fourth line centre or winger.
Green on Travis Boyd’s first six games in Vancouver:
I think he’s better in the middle than what I’ve seen on the wall — I think he probably feels more comfortable in the middle. He’s played some solid hockey for us, hasn’t hit offensively yet but also hasn’t hurt us defensively. He’s given us some solid minutes.
Former Leaf Travis Boyd on the response his team needs tonight:
I think we can just clean up some areas. Obviously, we had a couple of mistakes last night that ended up costing us — some mental things that we can all be better at. Obviously, [we need] to bounce back tonight and come out with as much physical energy as we can and mentally try and be a little bit sharper. [If we do that], I think we’ll be alright.
Boyd on the journey of being claimed off of waivers by the Canucks only to enter Covid-protocol immediately after:
It’s been a long last four or five weeks for me. Obviously, [I was] very excited to get picked up originally, and I still am excited to be here and I’m happy to be a part of this team. I enjoy getting to come to the rink and getting to know the guys here every day, so that’s good.
Obviously, it was tough. For me, I had to do a week [long] quarantine just coming from Ontario as it was and then basically my first day out of quarantine was that game on [March 24th]. [After that] it was shut down for two weeks.
It was tough for me to take basically three weeks off of skating and four or five weeks during the season. It was something that you don’t do very often. It’s been tough, but I’m happy to be back playing now and — like I said — I’m really enjoying being a Vancouver Canuck and coming to the rink every day to be with this group of guys.
Truthfully speaking, I was one of the luckier ones. I didn’t really have any symptoms through my experience with it. I know some guys got hit hard here, so I’m lucky in that sense. Even for somebody that maybe didn’t have adverse symptoms or things that were making me stay in bed for five straight days, everybody on the team, whether you had Covid or not, took more than two weeks off of being on the ice and basically a month in between games.
I think we’re back now and hopefully ready to respond after a loss.
Boyd on whether he feels playing center is more challenging than the wing:
I don’t know if I would use the word ‘challenging’. I’ve played center a lot growing up and a lot throughout my career. The last few years I was in Washington, I probably played a little more wing than I did center there, but I’m still comfortable [at centre].
At center, you get a lot more responsibility thrown on you, especially in the d-zone with the times being the low guy down there and trying to help get out of the zone. It’s challenging. You need to do your job and do those things right.
It’s also nice for me. You get the puck a bit more playing center and you also get the puck in the middle of the ice. For someone like me, [it’s nice] getting to the middle of the ice and hopefully trying to make plays through that and distribute the game through the middle. It’s been good so far ,and I feel like every game I’m playing here as a member of the Canucks I’m getting more and more comfortable and starting to find my game a bit more here.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#97 Joe Thornton – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Alex Galchenyuk – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#47 Pierre Engvall – #77 Adam Brooks – #19 Jason Spezza
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #78 T.J Brodie
#55 Ben Hutton – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#33 David Rittich (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Resting: Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, Nick Foligno, Jack Campbell
Extras/Taxi: Joey Duszak, Martin Marincin, Veini Vehvilainen, Stefan Noesen, Nick Robertson
Injured: Frederik Andersen, Riley Nash, Zach Hyman, Zach Bogosian
Vancouver Canucks Projected Lines
#70 Tanner Pearson – #53 Bo Horvat – #36 Nils Hoglander
#64 Tyler Motte – #9 JT Miller – #6 Brock Boeser
#71 Zach Macewen – #20 Brandon Sutter – #78 Kole Lind
#15 Matthew Highmore – #72 Travis Boyd – #18 Jake Virtanen
#23 Alex Edler – #88 Nate Schmidt
#43 Quinn Hughes – #27 Travis Hamonic
#63 Jalen Chatfield – #57 Tyler Myers
#49 Braden Holtby (starter)
#35 Thatcher Demko
Scratched: Jimmy Vesey, Jayce Hawryluk, Olli Juolevi
Injured: Elias Pettersson, Micheal Ferland, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, Justin Bailey