They don’t ask how in the playoffs.
A win is a win, and there isn’t much time to think about it considering these two teams play again tomorrow night.
The Leafs did enough tonight as a team, but the star of the show was Jack Campbell. He was fantastic, particularly in the third period, giving them the type of win you simply need sometimes from your goalie. That is something that has been in short supply for the Leafs over the past four years in the playoffs.
Even though they only scored two goals, the Leafs‘ star players are really starting to click. William Nylander scored again. Mitch Marner made a beautiful pass to Morgan Rielly, who scored his first. Auston Matthews put six shots on net and is creating chances regularly (as well as throwing some big hits!).
Before we see if the Leafs can take a stranglehold on this series tomorrow night, here is your game in 10:
1. The Leafs took an early four-minute penalty that hurt the flow of the game, but once again, Jack Campbell was excellent early to keep it a scoreless game.
On that penalty kill, Mitch Marner, in particular, was excellent. The Habs barely threatened, and the Leafs are employing what we discussed here before the series – their speedy forwards are all over the top umbrella of the Habs’ power play. They love to set up and hammer pucks from back there, but the Leafs are not giving them any time or space to do so.
Beyond the penalty kill, Campbell made a huge early save on Brendan Gallagher on a 2v1. As an aside, Rasmus Sandin has to better read the lack of support there and back up. He was also toe dragged by Toffoli in the first period for a decent shot on goal. They are starting to challenge him more.
A few shifts after that save, Campbell made another excellent save on Perry on a tip play in tight. He has been a super confident and steadying force in net for the Leafs, even when they start games by going through the motions a little bit.
2. It was a tough blow for the Leafs to lose Nick Foligno for this game, especially since he was already centering a makeshift second line. After both games, I was somewhat puzzled by Foligno’s time on ice, especially in Game 1 — where he played quite well — but clearly, he is battling an injury and they are keeping his ice time tight when he does play.
Sheldon Keefe’s adjustments, given the circumstances, made sense. Alex Kerfoot moved up to the second line, where he’s had some success with William Nylander before, and Riley Nash would take defensive zone faceoffs instead of Kerfoot (when the puck left the zone, Nash would get off for Kerfoot).
It’s unfortunate to have to break up the third line after such a strong Game 2, but you have to protect the top of the lineup first and foremost. If anything, as regular readers will remember us harping on before in this space, this is exactly why getting Nylander some repetitions at center would be nice to have in your back pocket. The good news is that Nylander is carrying his line so well from the wing that it might not matter (for now).
3. The Habs put their lines completely in the blender. All the penalties hurt both teams (seven penalties through two) — making it hard for the game to get into a flow — but the Habs’ lines through two periods were shaking out as follows: Caufield – Suzuki – Armia, Gallagher – Kotkaniemi – Toffoli, Byron – Danault – Anderson (it was supposed to be Lehkonen there, but he got hurt), and Tatar was paired up with Perry.
The Leafs really outplayed them in Game 2, so you can understand why Montreal might feel the need to really shake things up — and they sure did. It hasn’t been talked about at much length, but Gallagher is barely playing and is clearly hurt. It’s a huge loss for the Habs, even if he is technically dressed. They are really struggling to adjust their roster while icing a limited Gallagher.
4. The Leafs have scored a few goals on the same faceoff play: a simple win back to a guy on his off wing, who steps in and shoots with momentum. Mitch Marner, specifically, has scored a few on that play in the regular season. The Habs would be aware of this — one of those Marner faceoff goals was literally against Montreal a few weeks ago.
What Nylander did was a nice little wrinkle, and it made all the difference – he waited. Instead of rushing just to get the shot off, he put his head up and tried to make an actual play, which allowed the Leafs to get in some battles in front of the net.
Great patience from Nylander off the faceoff. 1-0 Leafs #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/KBMVxEonjz
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) May 25, 2021
5. After the Leafs scored, the William Nylander line remained out, and he almost scored again. The Habs finally started to tilt the ice following that a little bit, but the Leafs were still generating some good chances, particularly a scramble in front where Pierre Engvall wasn’t able to put it home and Alex Kerfoot knocked the puck down on a Price pass that gave him a temporary empty net to make a play. But the Habs won a battle, went down on the rush, and snapped a puck in.
It’s probably one that Jack Campbell wants back (he was a little deep in his net), but the real sticking point there was the gap control from Morgan Rielly. Suzuki simply skated right in from center for free. He had no pressure, and he had no defender on him. Rielly has, generally speaking, had a good start to the series, but that was really poor defensively by him. You can’t just stand there, stick your stick out, and let a guy skate in and wind up unscathed.
6. To his credit, Morgan Rielly responded shortly after with a go-ahead goal that stood up as the game winner. Mitch Marner has taken some fairly warranted heat for his play, particularly on the power play, but that seam pass is what he does at his best — and the way Rielly moved around in the offensive zone to create offense is also him at his best.
The unsung hero of that goal was all the work Zach Hyman was doing in front to battle and gain positioning. Price completely cheated to the pass, and Rielly simply had to shoot the puck short side. It was wide open.
It felt like that pass and assist went to Marner’s legs. On his next shift, he set up Rielly for another chance, and then he almost scored on the rebound. It seemed like all series to this point he was kind of waiting for something to go his way — it finally did.
What a pass from Marner to Rielly. 2-1 Leafs #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/eKWmjgXQXL
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) May 25, 2021
7. This was Alex Kerfoot’s best game as a Toronto Maple Leaf, and I’m not sure it was even particularly close. He played 18:32, the most he has played in any game this season, and he picked up an assist, but it was his speed that was so noticeable. With a few minutes left in the game, he had the puck just inside the Leafs’ zone with a Hab standing him up, and he calmly chipped it off the wall and skated around him, going down on a 2v1.
When you consider the circumstances of having to move up to center the second line, in a tie playoff series, on the road — so he’s hard to shelter (he played the most against Kotkaniemi, Toffoli, and Suzuki) — plus what he brings as a penalty killer, it was just a great game from him.
At the end of the game, Kerfoot was on when the goalie was pulled to help the Leafs close it out, too.
8. I was disappointed with the Leafs’ approach to the third period. They largely sat back, with one forechecker applying pressure, everyone else hanging back, and the Habs poured it on. With roughly five minutes left in the third, the shots on net were 12-1 for Montreal.
Jack Campbell was excellent — and really the only reason the Leafs maintained the lead. The Habs really lack finishers and high-end talent, so you have a better chance of getting away with it against them, but if that’s the way they are going to play a 2-1 lead against top-end finishers, they might not like how that plays out.
Suzuki missed a wide-open net late, Justin Holl sacrificed and made a great block in the dying seconds, and Campbell was calm and steady the entire way. Natural Stat Trick gave the Habs two high danger scoring chances in the third at 5v5, but they were swarming them pretty well the entire time.
9. There has been a lot more gamesmanship in this series than I’ve seen from the Leafs in years past. Of note: They’ve been starting Wayne Simmonds at the beginning of each game, presumably to get in on the forecheck and set a physical tone. There have been a number of times where Leafs players have been in scrums (particularly Matthews), and they have simply laughed in their face while getting pushed or punched.
Hyman and Matthews went hard to the net towards the end of the second, starting a huge scrum with everyone on the ice getting in on it (note: it was nice to see the Leafs stand up for themselves there). Apparently, Simmonds hung around on the ice when the period ended to have words with the Habs players involved. Early in the third period, he also ran over Gallagher.
Wayne Simmonds is popping off on the Habs
"All you f–king guys!" pic.twitter.com/blIDKBgyYH
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) May 25, 2021
10. Carey Price has been fantastic in this series, and if there’s one area where we’ve seen the Leafs’ growth throughout this entire season, it’s how they just stick with the game when the other goalie is on a heater — the best regular-season example being the game where David Rittich was unconscious until the Leafs tied it with the goalie pulled and then won in overtime.
Price has been putting on that level of a performance – the save on Jason Spezza in this game being his biggest highlight of the series so far – and the Leafs are unfazed. Just stick with the process, keep getting chances, and don’t cheat for offense.
Against Columbus last year, this was not the case. The Leafs would get antsy after not scoring, and it would impact their overall play. Last year, when Montreal upset Pittsburgh, it was the same story for the Penguins. Price was great, Pittsburgh started cheating, and the Habs capitalized.
See you tomorrow night.