Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs post game
Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs post game

Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

On Jason Spezza speaking up at the first intermission:

It’s not an uncommon thing to happen. That is part of what Spezza brings to our team with the intangibles. There are times in the regular season when it is the same kind of thing. Certainly, it was well-timed.

On how the team turned it around after the first period:

There are a couple of things. Obviously, in the first, they were way better than us, but we also had to see through all of the mud of the special teams, too, because we weren’t as bad at five-on-five as the shots would’ve shown on the scoreboard.

That was the first thing. We had to separate those two things. We had to stop taking penalties, and our power play had to do a better job. Those were a couple of things there.

I thought they did a really good job of defending and making it really hard on us to get to the net to get much offense going in the first period at five-on-five. We had to find our way through that, but as I said, the penalties and the play on our power play really muddied the waters in terms of how we were actually playing. It really didn’t allow us to get going and get life in the game.

We had to talk about that: stop taking penalties, allow our game to take hold, and look to build something through the second period. With the way the series has gone, 2-0 has become 4-0 or 5-0 for both teams. We needed to flip that script here tonight.

We needed to wash the first period, stop the bleeding, not allow anything else, look to score the next goal, and win the second period. That was our focus.

On whether the turnaround was as simple as delivering that message to the team:

Nothing was easy about it. We had to go and earn it. We got to a point in the second period where we got a hold of the game. Much like they have done to us at different times, you are just coming, coming, and coming in the second period. The other team can’t really disrupt you. They started to look tired.

That gave our team life. We could see it and feel it on the bench. Guys were talking about it: just keep coming. I think that gave us life and confidence.

It was a huge power-play goal for us. The power play was not great today, but it scored us a massive goal that gave us life. The crowd really got into it from there. We didn’t stop. That was really great to see.

Obviously, again, in the third period, we just talked about finding a way to win a game. We had to not take penalties. We had to still defend and check when it was time so we don’t allow them to pull away in the game, and look for our opportunities. We got big-time plays from our best guys.

On what it says about the character of the core that it drove this comeback:

I think it is huge. It is everything that you are looking for. It is a key time, right? It’s the hardest time of year against the back-to-back champs. It is the best team in the NHL in the third period in terms of not giving up much and defending leads. They certainly know how to win.

For our guys, we got some more ice there at 4v4. Big-time play from John to Moe, a big-time play by Miky to Willy, and an incredible shot. All of a sudden, you’ve got a lead.

We give that back to them, but then another big-time play by Mitch and Auston connecting there. That is what you are looking for at key times in a big game like this. You need your best people to step up and make a difference. They certainly did that.

Of course, Jack Campbell was probably the key to this whole thing here. He kept them at two for a long time and gave us the time to come back.

On the last win being the hardest in the series:

It goes without saying. No matter who you are playing, when you are trying to win a series, finishing it off is the hardest thing to do. When you are playing against the back-to-back champs who know about winning for the last couple of years, it is even harder. We are on the road.  That is that.

For our team, we have to recover right now. It’s a travel day tomorrow. We’ll get out there. By this point in the series, we know exactly what is required to win and how difficult it is going to be. We’ll prepare to go to battle and look to get it done.

On the character Jack Campbell showed bouncing back after two early goals against:

I think he has proven by now what his character is all about. That is not up for debate or question.

I said it before the game this morning. To me, what stood out about Jack’s reaction coming out of Game 4… He hasn’t been in these situations a lot in terms of being in the playoffs, being the guy, riding the wave, and all of that. He had last season, but this is his second go-around. What I liked about it is that he handled it like a veteran. “It wasn’t my night. I am going to wash it, come back, and be good today.”

I think that is how he handled it again here in this game. Obviously, we didn’t help him nearly well enough early in the game. A couple got by him. We talked to our team in the TV timeout early in the game — and Jack was part of that — about the fact that the way this series has gone, it snowballs. We have to stop. If we are going to come back, flip the script, and change it, we have to stop it.

It took us some time to really get there, but when we made mistakes, Jack was outstanding. To me, he just looked like a veteran goalie. That is what you are looking for.

On whether this could be a turning point for the team in the playoffs:

I don’t think that tonight is going to matter if we don’t take the next step — the hardest step — but I certainly believe that in the event we are able to get this done, we will look back on tonight as a huge moment for our team.

We can’t live in this moment. This moment is now done. We take the experience. We take what we have learned and the confidence you pull out of it — and the excitement going forward — but you have to know what is ahead. You know it is going to be the hardest one. We have to focus on the next one now.