With home-ice advantage in round one secured, the Maple Leafs enter the final game of the regular season prioritizing rest and injury prevention but also have a chance to influence which opponent will travel to Scotiabank Arena for Game 1 on Monday (7 p.m. EST, TSN4).
With the Bruins facing down the possibility of playing Carolina or Toronto — winners of 54 and 53 games, respectively — while starting on the road, the difference clearly isn’t enough for Bruce Cassidy to sacrifice rest and risk injury to core players, as Boston will sit nine regulars tonight. There is also the question of whether the preference is to stay exactly where they are in the first wild card spot; a win over Carolina is rewarded with a second-round matchup against the Rangers or Penguins as opposed to potentially the President’s Trophy winners in Florida.
If the Lightning win their game against the Islanders tonight, it’s all moot anyway, and the Leafs will be welcoming the back-to-back Cup champs to Scotiabank Arena on Monday night. If the Lightning lose (in regulation or overtime/shootout) and the Bruins win, Boston ends up the higher seed and holds the tiebreaker based on their number of regulation wins.
The list of confirmed scratches for Boston tonight is as follows:
- Patrice Bergeron
- Brad Marchand
- David Pastrnak
- Jake DeBrusk
- Erik Huala
- Matt Grzelcyk
- Hampus Lindholm
- Charlie McAvoy
For the Leafs, all of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares will be resting for tonight’s regular-season finale. Jack Campbell will also sit out, but he will be on the bench to back up Erik Källgren. Joey Anderson, who has been red-hot with the Marlies (five goals in five games since returning from injury) has been called up in place of Nick Robertson and will play his fifth game this season with the big club. Kyle Clifford and Justin Holl will also play, meaning the Leafs will run with seven defensemen and 11 forwards.
Without a morning skate to draw from, the lines tonight will be a total guessing game for both teams. We can assume Alex Kerfoot and William Nylander will pair together given their familiarity, but beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.
With Linus Ullmark earning a shutout last night, we can expect 23-year-old Jeremy Swayman to start tonight. With the start tonight, Swayman will tie Ullmark in games played and starts. Considering their save percentages are also identical and neither has any playoff experience, the Bruins will have a tough decision to make for their first playoff game. That said, Ullmark’s form in the second half of the season and particularly his play these last few weeks — including wins over a number of the top teams in the East in Tampa, Florida, the Rangers — probably earns him the Game 1 nod.
In 40 games this season, Swayman is 23-13-2 with a .915 save percentage.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on his priorities for tonight’s game:
I want to get through the game healthy. That’s a big part of it. At the same time, we’ve been talking about — in the last four, five games or so — maintaining our habits defensively, how we manage the puck, special teams habits, and those kinds of things.
Those kinds of things, no matter who is in or out of the lineup, we expect to be at a high level at this point. Obviously, the most important thing is just to get through the game healthy and compete at a high level.
We’ll spread out the minutes and we’ll get guys that haven’t played a lot a chance to play more. That’s a good opportunity for them to show what they can do with more opportunities. We think we are going to need more from our depth guys when the playoffs begin just because of the pace, the physicality being so high, the volume of games, and how quickly the games come at you.
Keefe on how fortunate the team is to have a healthy Jack Campbell ready for the playoffs:
It’s been great. He’s worked extremely hard to get his game back, and he’s in a really good spot right now. That was priority one for us for the last couple of months: getting Jack back in a groove.
He’s played some excellent hockey. He earned a place in the All-Star game for a reason because of how he had played. He’s a huge part of our team’s success.
It slipped for a little while and he went through some injury stuff, but he found a way through that. He’s in a really good place and feels confident and comfortable with where his game is at.
He didn’t feel he needed to play in tonight’s game. He wanted to work on some things in practice and all of that. We’re on the same page there.
Keefe on how it feels to coach 82 games for the first time in his career:
We were talking a little bit about it yesterday. It’s the first time for me. 76 games is the AHL schedule, so that’s the highest I’ve gone through. This season has been a grind. You have all the Covid stuff you went through as a team, even though a lot of it feels like forever ago.
Keefe on his mindset heading into Monday’s game one:
Whoever we end up facing between Boston and Tampa, it’s a significant challenge. Both teams are playing extremely well.
Just the fact that we’re at game 82 and there’s nothing really separating them in the standings shows how good they are. The fact that we didn’t clinch home ice until game 81 despite setting franchise records and having a terrific season shows just how tight the division is.
We’re ready for a battle, no matter who it is.
Keefe on his confidence in the fourth line going into the playoffs and Wayne Simmonds’ contributions:
I think Wayne has done a good job [of providing momentum]. He’s really asserted himself physically. He’s had more shifts on the offensive side than the defensive side. That’s really positive for us.
Just like we have to make a decision on defense, we have to make a decision at forward. Some of that might be made [based] on our injuries and stuff like that, but those guys have given us great belief about our ability to get more out of the fourth line.
Keefe on how he feels the team will handle the physicality of the playoffs:
We just want our team to be as competitive as possible. That’s really it. I don’t look at our team as an undisciplined group or anything like that. I’m pretty confident in our team’s ability to stay focused and play through anything.
We want to be aggressive and we want to be physical ourselves. The Tampa game got a little physical at the end, but that’s more a reflection of the score than anything else.
We’ve been more physical in the last six weeks than we have been all season. I think that’s also a reflection of the additions we’ve made to our team bringing in Blackwell and Lyubushkin. We’ve had more focused play from guys Simmonds and Spezza. That’s really added to the physicality of our team. We’ve talked at times about how Mitch and Auston have stepped up in that way as well.
We want to be initiators in that way, but we also want to be a team that’s comfortable playing though that physicality because it’s going to ramp up even more. I believe we’re ready and we’re able to play through that.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #88 William Nylander
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kampf – #11 Colin Blackwell
#43 Kyle Clifford – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#26 Nick Abruzzese – #28 Joey Anderson
#44 Morgan Rielly – #46 Ilya Lyubushkin
#8 Jake Muzzin – #78 T.J. Brodie
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#3 Justin Holl
Starter: #50 Erik Källgren
#36 Jack Campbell
Rest: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares
Injured: Michael Bunting, Rasmus Sandin
LTIR: Ondrej Kase, Petr Mrazek