Following a nightmare opening game of the series that included seven goals against, eight penalty kills, a match penalty, a goalie pull, and a lot of fans leaving the building early, the Maple Leafs need a big response tonight in a crucial Game 2 (7:00 p.m. EST, Sportsnet/CBC).
Tuesday’s Game 1 was such a disappointment that it had some Leafs fans clinging to the notion that the team might benefit from hitting rock-bottom early in the series rather than later. Their response from the drop of the puck tonight in Game 2 will be hugely telling.
The tentativeness with which the Leafs started the first game was probably more psychological than it was structural or line combination-related, but Sheldon Keefe has been forced to mix up his forward lines both by the Game 1 result and the suspension of Michael Bunting.
Keefe started Game 1 with his top two lines, centered by Auston Matthews and Ryan O’Reilly, but it was the team’s third shift after a defensive-zone draw, courtesy of Aston-Reese/Kampf/Lafferty, that was a disaster on the whole and cost the Leafs a goal very early. That line, two-thirds of which established themselves as a go-to combo for Keefe all the way back in October (Kampf and Aston-Reese), will be the only line to remain intact tonight in a big show of confidence from Sheldon Keefe.
It may have gone a bit under the radar given the long list of grievances to take from Tuesday, but the coaching staff’s decision to ice a third line (Kerfoot – Acciari – Jarnkrok) that had zero experience with each other and little apparent chemistry on paper was certainly a little head-scratching. Kerfoot and Acciari, as an isolated combo, have shared the ice a fair bit since Acciari was acquired along with Ryan O’Reilly, but primarily it came in games where both players weren’t playing as much as usual or where the team was running 11 forwards while shuffling the lines constantly. The three as a whole had literally not played more than a minute together as a line prior to Game 1.
With Kerfoot and Jarnkrok elevating into the top six, Matthew Knies will join veterans Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari on a line with a better mix of complementary elements theoretically, one that should play many of its minutes opposite Tampa’s bottom six tonight. There is a little bit of familiarity here as the 20-year-old Knies played the first of his three NHL games with Acciari and Kerfoot primarily and then with O’Reilly as his center for the next two.
With Bunting out, Calle Järnkrok will return to Auston Matthews’ wing, reuniting a combination, along with Mitch Marner, that meshed well down the stretch of the regular season. Järnkrok, a veteran of 76 NHL playoff games, only registered one shot attempt in Game 1 — his tap-in goal in garbage time — so he will be looking for more in Game 2 alongside the team’s two offensive leaders of whom much more is expected tonight.
With injuries entering the conversation in a big way for Tampa on Tuesday, all eyes will be on the Lightning warmups tonight as both teams await the verdict on Victor Hedman’s health entering the game. Hedman was a participant in Tampa’s morning skate today, albeit he took drills quite gingerly. If he misses the game, 26-year-old Haydn Fleury would draw in.
The confirmed absence for Tampa is Erik Cernak, someone who is tasked with tough matchups for the Lightning and will be missed in this role alongside Ian Cole. Cernak hasn’t returned to the ice since going down after the illegal check to the head from Bunting. In contrast to Cernak, Michael Eyssimont did skate today after taking a similar hit-to-the-head from Jake McCabe and it looks like he could return at some point, but he will not play tonight, either.
With Eyssimont out, Tanner Jeannot will take his place in the lineup tonight and complete the line he spent most of his first nine games in Tampa with after he was acquired from the Preds. Jeannot was moved down a line with Bellemare and Perry at the end of the regular season, but it looks like he will stay on the third line tonight as John Cooper opts to keep the veteran trio of Maroon-Bellemare-Perry together following its impactful Game 1 performance.
Lastly, former Leafs and former Lightning Stanley Cup champion Zach Bogosian will draw in for the Lightning. Bogosian has played only 46 games this season and has averaged just under 15 minutes per game of ice time. He will likely join Ian Cole on what is a more vulnerable-looking pairing without Cernak, but the Leafs will need to tilt the ice more and create more offensive-zone mismatches than they did on Tuesday if they’re to take advantage of this Tampa blue line.
Anthony Petrielli’s Keys to Game 2
Some thoughts ahead of Game 2:
– With last change need to dictate matchups, not chase them like in G1
– The neutral zone was a disaster. TB gapped up and constantly forced turnovers while the Leafs were hanging inside their blue line and inviting TB to enter the zone all night.
— Anthony Petrielli (@APetrielli) April 20, 2023
– TB worked the Leafs down low. D has to do a better job being physical there and C's have to support better.
– Role players have to know roles – ZAR d-zone *backhand* area pass stuffed down their throat for a goal 1 minute into the game? Can't happen.
– Win a game, no excuses.
— Anthony Petrielli (@APetrielli) April 20, 2023
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on what needs to change in Game 2:
Just our mindset. We weren’t ourselves the other night, and we need to get back to that. It was surprising in a lot of ways — the way we started — because we hadn’t really been playing that way at all. To me, we’ve been playing a brand of hockey that would bring us success in the playoffs no matter who we play and that didn’t roll into the playoffs, so we need to get back to that, clearly.
Keefe on the level of pressure on Matthew Knies:
I don’t think there’s much pressure on him. He’s not expected to come out here and save the world. If you want to talk about pressure, he’s a top guy playing for a national championship in front of 19,000 people for something that he’s grown with and been a big part of and is a key guy.
He’s just coming in here to just do his part. Just go out and compete. He’s done well in the games he’s played for us and he’s played in pressure situations before. This is is not one of them. It’s a different situation, it’s a challenging situation, but he’s got no pressure.
Keefe on the team taking advantage of the Lightning’s injuries on defense:
Regardless of who is in or out, the plan remains the same as what it’s been going into the series and that’s just the name of the game. You want to put miles on the other team’s defence and be in the offensive zone, on the puck, and all those types of things.
That’s what we had talked about coming into the series, and I suspect they’re talking about the same thing on the other side. That’s the nature of the game, so certainly, that’s the plan here once again.
Keefe on approaching the game differently and the need for more discipline:
The penalty kill numbers are a mess, and [we] gave up too many, but there are some good things inside of that. We get a good kill in the first period — the first kill of the game — and we got through that, so you’re keeping your head above water.
At 3-1 in the second period, we get on the PK, and that gives us a chance to make it 3-2 and come back in the game. Obviously, the penalties pile up and the goals piled up, too.
We have to embrace the things we did well, limit the number of penalties we take, and establish discipline.
Keefe on what discipline looks like in the context of a physical playoff series:
You can look at it many different ways, right? To me, there’s discipline after the whistle when you’re engaging in things that you shouldn’t, and that’s clearly undisciplined and you get distracted and lose focus.
Things that happened over the course of play often result in retaliatory things which, to me, are undisciplined. I look at some of the penalties we took in the first period — McCabe gets a high stick, and to me, that’s undisciplined in the sense that you’re not controlling your stick. Brodie loses body positioning and then gets a hold. There are different ways to interpret it.
The Bunting play is well-intentioned in that he’s trying to engage to win the line. He’s expecting a physical confrontation with a defender that’s as physical as anyone in the league.
Jon Cooper on dealing with two-or-more injuries resulting from Game 1:
We’ve been injured before, even in our cup runs in the bubble. Kucherov was hurt. Point was hurt. Guys were missing games and getting suspended. We’ve been in that situation before.
Is it ideal? Of course not, you’d love to have your full arsenal in, but it’s part of the game, and it’s why you hope your depth comes through for you.
Cooper on the Bunting suspension and Matthew Knies replacing him:
[Knies] played against us. Obviously, we don’t know a ton about him, but he was more than fine the game in Tampa [last week].
[The suspension] was unfortunate. It’s unfortunate for [Bunting], too — everyone all the way around. I can’t really comment after that.
Cooper on the officiating:
I think the thing that gets under everybody’s skin is if the refs get in the way. That’s universal. It’s been going on for a hundred years. Other than that, the refs usually aren’t getting in the way anyways. Just stay the course. That’s what our guys have been doing.
Cooper on whether momentum from Game 1 will be a factor tonight:
Momentum is a pendulum. You just hope that when it swings your way you keep it rolling for as long as you can because it can change in an instant.
You look at last game, and we’re up 3-0 in the second period. After a couple penalties, all of a sudden, it’s 3-2. You’re sitting there going, “There goes the pendulum the other way,” but then Point scores, and it comes right back our way.
Morgan Rielly on the importance of winning the possession battle, especially with Erik Cernak and possibly Victor Hedman out of the lineup:
I think even against a group that’s entirely healthy, that’s still important. That’s one of the cool things about a playoff series — it’s a long-term investment. You’re playing the same team every other day until there’s a winner.
That kind of wear and tear, that zone time and relentless pressure that you’re able to put on your opponent ultimately does take a toll on them. You want to win that battle.
Both teams are trying to get offensive zone time and control the puck. You want to win that battle, and it does play a role in the playoffs to an extent.
Morgan Rielly on Matthew Knies:
Big kid, good athlete, and strong. He’s got confidence coming in here after having a great college year. I think he’s done well fitting in. We had a chance to bring him in on the road, and then not playing last game was a chance to get a bit more comfortable around here and everything.
Ryan O’Reilly on losing Michael Bunting to a three-game suspension:
It’s tough. He’s obviously a big loss for us. With the things he provides — his energy, the way he makes plays and goes to the net hard — he can be a pest out there. It’s a tough loss, but we have great depth. It’s a real strong suit for us.
Ryan O’Reilly on his advice for Matthew Knies before his first career playoff game:
One thing is enjoying it, but [it’s also about] trusting himself. He’s a phenomenal player, and he’s just got to lean into that. Obviously, as the game progresses, we’ll be communicating as best we can.
Ryan O’Reilly on the key to dealing with pressure:
Enjoying it. The higher the stakes are, the more you have to pay attention to detail, and that’s the fun thing about [playoffs]. That intensity is because of that pressure, so you have to enjoy it and get into it. Accept it and have fun with it.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#19 Calle Järnkrok – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#23 Matthew Knies – #90 Ryan O’Reilly – #52 Noel Acciari
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #64 David Kämpf – #28 Sam Lafferty
#22 Jake McCabe – #78 TJ Brodie
#55 Mark Giordano – #3 Justin Holl
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Luke Schenn
Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#60 Joseph Woll
Scratched: Wayne Simmonds, Timothy Liljegren, Erik Gustafsson, Erik Kallgren
Injured: Matt Murray, Nick Robertson, Jake Muzzin, Victor Mete Suspended: Michael Bunting
Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines
#91 Steven Stamkos – #21 Brayden Point – #86 Nikita Kucherov
#38 Brandon Hagel – #71 Anthony Cirelli – #17 Alex Killorn
#79 Ross Colton – #20 Nick Paul – #84 Tanner Jeannot*
#14 Patrick Maroon – #41 Pierre-Édouard Bellemare – #10 Corey Perry
#77 Victor Hedman* – #48 Nicklaus Perbix
#98 Mikhail Sergachev – #43 Darren Raddysh
#28 Ian Cole – #24 Zach Bogosian
Starter: #88 Andrei Vasilevskiy
#1 Brian Elliott
*Game Time Decision
Injured: Erik Cernak, Michael Eyssimont