After practice on Saturday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the challenge of going out on the road down 2-0 in the series, the penalty disparity in the series, and Mark Giordano’s struggles in the playoffs.
Practice Lines – May 6
Lines at Leafs practice
Bunting – Matthews – Marner
Jarnkrok – Tavares – Nylander
Kerfoot – O’Reilly – Acciari
Aston-Reese – Kampf – Lafferty
Rielly – Schenn
McCabe – Brodie
Giordano – Liljegren
Gustafsson – Holl
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) May 6, 2023
What is your sense of the group after the day off ahead of the challenge of a critical Game 3?
Keefe: The challenge is the challenge, and it is pretty obvious, but the group feels good and remains confident and optimistic. We’re excited to get out on the road. It is a place where we have developed some confidence. It doesn’t make it any easier. The puck will drop, and the game will be hard and competitive again.
We just have to stay with it as a group. We’ve got to minimize our mistakes but stay on the attack and keep shooting.
Why do you think you have had so much success on the road?
Keefe: We talked a lot last series that we are a resilient group. We found our way back in games. We were extremely competitive. I thought we really minimized mistakes so that we were in games consistently, whether it is Game 3 where we were right there, or Game 4 where we were able to find our way back. In Game 6, we were playing with the lead and right there.
That is just it — being resilient, remaining confident, and believing in our group.
You mentioned that as much as you’ll miss Matthew Knies, the group was very capable before he arrived. Does the new lineup with the adjustments reflect that?
Keefe: Knies has been great for us. He is going to be missed for sure. Even though it is a short amount of time, you come to appreciate what he is able to bring to our group.
Just like if anyone else was injured, you press on as a group. This one, in particular, makes it even easier to press because you didn’t have him all season as we established ourselves as an elite team.
We are unfazed in terms of our approach and our mentality with any injury. With this one — as I said — we will miss Matthew, but our group is very much comfortable playing without him.
How much is the simplicity of playing a road game — a chip off the wall instead of making a play — playing into the road success around the league in the playoffs?
Keefe: It is hard to say, right? It is hard to say what exactly it is, but I think there is definitely something to that.
Everything about being on the road at this time of year is simpler. How you play — perhaps maybe that can be a bit simpler, and you just focus on just getting the win, and that is absolutely it. Even though that is your mentality always, it is easier to have it on the road.
There are fewer distractions on the road in terms of different obligations everybody has when you leave the building. When you leave the arena on the road, you are with your teammates. You’re back to the hotel. You’re resting. It is a very controlled environment.
I don’t know why, but it seems like it is [the case]. It is not necessarily like that every year, but it does seem like there are advantages to being on the road. Certainly, we felt that last series.
After the emotional moment of the team advancing last week, did you sense a lull in the group a little bit afterward?
Keefe: A little bit, with the day off that we had and then trying to ramp it up again, with the uncertainty of who our opponent was going to be… We had talked about it. Over the last 10 years, a team coming off of a Game 7 win has had an advantage in winning Game 1 and starting the series off right. I do think there is something to the momentum that you just ride through versus taking that breath.
That said, being down 2-0, I think taking a breath with a chance to regroup and heal some of our bumps and bruises, we will get our mentality right to get out on the road and accept the challenge. The opponent will get their time to rest and recover and all of those things.
For us, I think it is healthy for us to have a breath now. It was a good practice today. We had good energy in the building. We are excited to get to Florida.
Paul Maurice has been frustrated with the disparity in power plays in this series. From your perspective, what do you think your team is doing well to earn those chances?
Keefe: We are getting hit in the head a lot, so there is that. I think the officials are making the calls, and there is a lot more out there, too. That is part of it.
We have to remain disciplined and smart. It was a major key for us coming into the series. I think we have done a good job with it. We have to continue to play through it. If opportunities come our way, we have to make good on them as we did to start the game in Game 2.
We had opportunities to extend our lead in both the first and second periods, and we failed to do so. We have to be really good there. We have to keep our heads about us, too, and continue to be smart and not get caught taking penalties for ourselves.
Mark Giordano mentioned he knows he has a lot more to give. How can he get back to that level?
Keefe: Gio is a veteran. He knows how to take care of himself and handle his game. The pace of play has been significant in both of these series with the competitiveness and the quality forechecks we have seen. It doesn’t make it easy on any of our defensemen.
There have been a lot of our guys who have had some tough times with that. Gio has to stay with it and remain confident in who he is. As a group, the other guys who are on the ice all have to support one another.