Riding high after stealing back home-ice advantage from the Lightning, the Maple Leafs look to put the back-to-back champs on the brink of elimination tonight in Game 4 (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet/CBC).

It seemed unlikely for the Leafs to beat the Lightning in a game in which neither of their top two lines was effective, but they found a way to snatch a game in Tampa Bay to retake a series lead thanks to a few key performances.

One of those came from the third line, which started off as Mikheyev-Kampf-Kerfoot but quickly saw Engvall take over for Kerfoot as Keefe juggled the lines. The Leafs‘ third line was able to provide some steady minutes and generate a goal by way of a Kampf snipe on the rush. Mikheyev also added two empty-netters to secure the win.

The other key performance was Jack Campbell, who stole the show in the third period by making multiple enormous saves, including robbing Nick Paul in tight and sliding across to make an incredible pad save on a Steven Stamkos one-timer. Without Campbell, the Leafs simply do not make it out of that game with a win.

At some point in this series, they will need more significant contributions from two of their stars who have been non-factors up to this point: John Tavares and William Nylander.  Through three games in the series so far, they have combined for just one point, a secondary assist from Tavares on Auston Matthews’s power-play goal in Game 1. As the matchup game starts to become established and the series (likely) tightens up as it wears on, the Leafs will need some signs of life from the second line. 

Another key to Game 4 success will be a bounce-back effort from the top line. The Matthews line got caved in by the combination of the Brayden Point line and the Hedman-Cernak defense pair. Michael Bunting was having such a rough go that Keefe put Kerfoot back on the top line, which appears to be how the lines will start tonight. The top line pushing back and winning those tough minutes for the Leafs would be a huge leg up in the game, but the difficulty of those minutes for Matthews-Marner also speaks to how much the second line really needs to be a factor in the cushier matchup situations.

The Leafs should be well versed in what the Lightning are capable of when their backs are against the wall following a loss in the playoffs. Tampa Bay boasts a 15-0 record in such contests in the last three postseasons.

Jon Cooper and his team believe they have started to find the formula for tilting the ice on Leafs in the latter half of Game 3. In the third period especially, the Leafs really struggled on D-zone retrievals and exits, which resulted in too many failed breakouts and turnovers against the Tampa forecheck. If the Leafs allow the Lighting to start rolling around in their zone, it can be very difficult to break their cycle. There were several instances, particularly in the third period, where Tampa was able to extend offensive zone time thanks to smart and aggressive pinches by their defensemen inside the blue line. 

Despite the struggles in that area of the game, Sheldon Keefe is sticking to the same defensive pairs. In fact, the personnel is staying the exact same throughout the lineup. The lineup will be the same as it was in the third period of Game 3, with Kerfoot playing on the top line and Bunting dropping down to the fourth line. However, Keefe did note that just because he is starting on the fourth line, Bunting may be used all over the lineup depending on different situations that may arise in the game. There has been a lot of fluidity to the Leafs’ lines depending on zone starts/the scoreboard/performances, so we can expect more of the same tonight.

Series Stats via NaturalStatTrick

  • The Lightning are winning the xGoals battle at 5-on-5 5.2-4.94 through three games.
  • The Lightning are decisively winning the high-danger chances share at even strength 28-17.
  • Brandon Hagel narrowly holds the lead for ixGoals at 5-on-5 with 0.88. David Kampf is close behind with 0.82.
  • Jack Campbell has a .952 save percentage at even strength through three games compared to Andrei Vasilevsky’s .892.
  • The Leafs-Lightning series is the closest in terms of CF% over all situations in the playoffs, with the Leafs holding a slight edge at 50.14%.
  • Morgan Rielly is tied for the fifth-most blocked shots at 5-on-5 in the playoffs so far with seven.
  • Jack Campbell has faced 19 rush attempts, the most amongst all goalies in the playoffs.

Game Day Quotes

Sheldon Keefe on how the Matthews line can establish more zone time in a difficult matchup:

Part of it is matchup, and part of it is just our team game. If we can get some positive momentum flowing as a team shift over shift, they’re in better spots that way. You look at the first period, and at times where they had really good shifts, it’s because it was a continuation of a good shift prior to them.

In the third period, they had their best chances, obviously, and a lot of that came from pace coming out of our end and breakouts and stuff. A lot of is tied into what we need to do better as a team

Keefe on the utility of a positionally-versatile player like Alex Kerfoot:

I’ve gotten the question a lot. It’s important. It’s important all the time. It’s really important this time of year. You need to be able to adjust to what the other team is doing. You need to, at times, fill in because of injuries or performance what have you. You need to give a line a boost.

He’s just always been that guy for us that’s stepped up whenever we needed it. You look at last season’s playoffs with John getting injured, and he steps up and plays in the middle and does a terrific job for us there. He’s a very important player for us.

Keefe on the motivation to take a 3-1 series lead on the defending champs:

You want to win because you want to win. Every game is important and valuable. Of course, you would love an opportunity to go home up 3-1. You come out on the road here — not unlike their mindset I’m sure when they were in Toronto — and you want to win.

You’d like to get a split, but then you come in and you win the first game. Well, let’s get greedy here and win the second one. That’s our mindset today.

I think you know that, when you’re playing against a team like this and their experience, they respond very well after a loss, so we’re expecting their absolute best game of the series here tonight. And I’m expecting our team to play its best game of the series.

When I look back at the three games here so far, I think we’ve done a lot of really good things as a team, but I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey yet, and that’s exciting. 

Keefe on how the Leafs have defended Kucherov and Stamkos at 5-on-5:

We’ve done a good job. It’s early, though. It’s only been three games. But that was a priority for us coming in.

We, of course, know what they can do on the power play, but they are also very dangerous at 5-on-5, and we’ve seen that. We’ve got to continue to be diligent with the puck when they’re out there, be good defensively, and be in good spots.

We can’t get too excited about it because it is early in the series and we’ve got to stay focused on doing the job. 

Lightning coach Jon Cooper on what made his group effective against the Matthews line:

It’s good players vs. good players. What’s the line? “You can only hope to contain them,” and I thought they did a pretty good job containing them. Again, I don’t think anywhere in this series one line has dominated another.

Special teams have shown up, and that’s a whole different animal. But Point-Cirelli-Killorn neutralized those guys pretty well, but it still didn’t translate to a win. That’s unfortunate, but if we keep doing that, it’s good for us. 

Cooper on what he appreciates about what Kucherov can do on the half-wall of the power play:

What isn’t there to appreciate about him? He’s a special player, especially in that area. And that’s why he’s so hard to defend because you can have guys pressure him and he’ll make plays through you. You can not pressure him. He’ll still make plays through you.

That’s an art. Some of it I don’t know if it’s teachable. His instincts are incredible and his feel for where guys are and where they’re going to be is pretty impressive. 

Michael Bunting on what his first playoff experience has been like so far:

It’s been great anytime you’re in the playoffs for any league. When I was in the American League or even here — it’s just obviously an upper scale — it’s a lot of fun. It’s intense. It’s fast hockey, and it’s rough. It’s right up my alley, so I’ve been enjoying it.

Alex Kerfoot on the atmosphere of the playoffs:

It’s really cool. This is my third year here and I haven’t been able to play in front of Leafs fans yet, so stepping out there at home was a pretty special experience. You can’t beat playing in Toronto in front of a home crowd in the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#15 Alex Kerfoot – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#88 William Nylander – #91 John Tavares  – #25 Ondrej Kase
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #64 David Kampf – #47 Pierre Engvall
#58 Michael Bunting – #11 Colin Blackwell – #19 Jason Spezza

#44 Morgan Rielly – #46 Ilya Lyubushkin
#8 Jake Muzzin – #78 T.J. Brodie
#55 Mark Giordano – #3 Justin Holl

Starter: #36 Jack Campbell
#50 Erik Källgren

Healthy Scratches: Wayne Simmonds, Timothy Liljegren, Nick Abruzzese, Kyle Clifford
Injured: Rasmus Sandin, Petr Mrazek

Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines

#18 Ondrej Palat – #91 Steven Stamkos – #86 Nikita Kucherov
#38 Bradon Hagel – #21 Brayden Point – #71 Anthony Cirelli
#17 Alex Killorn – #79 Ross Colton – #20 Nick Paul
#14 Patrick Maroon – #41 Pierre-Edouard Bellmare – #10 Corey Perry

#77 Victor Hedman – #81 Erik Cernak
#27 Ryan McDonagh – #24 Zach Bogosian
#98 Mikhail Sergachev – #52 Cal Foote

Starter: #88 Andrei Vasilevskiy
#1 Brian Elliot

Healthy Scratches: Riley Nash, Jan Rutta
Injured: None