Locked into third place in the Atlantic Division, the Maple Leafs’ second-last regular season game is all about Auston Matthews’ 70-goal milestone, avoiding further injuries, and hopefully tightening up their game after conceding 10 goals in two games on home ice to the Devils and Red Wings (7:30 p.m. EST, TSN4).

The Panthers enter this game with a full forward lineup but are without Aaron Ekblad and Oliver Ekman-Larsson on defense, while the Leafs are fully healthy on defense but missing Max Domi, Bobby McMann, and Calle Jarnkrok up front. Neither team will play its Game 1 starter in net (Anthony Stolarz starts tonight for Florida, and Joseph Woll for Toronto).

Beyond some pre-playoff prep against a potential round-one opponent, Toronto really only has a big-time individual milestone to play for, while Florida could still win the division if they get help elsewhere. They could still play the Lightning instead of the Leafs in round one and guarantee home-ice advantage for themselves in the first two rounds, but they would need to win tonight and Boston would need to lose to Ottawa, so it’s not fully in their own hands.

Due to injury situations (and potential rest considerations on Wednesday), it’s unlikely we’ll see the Leafs‘ playoff forward lines put together either tonight or tomorrow. We also won’t see Game 1 starter Ilya Samsonov in the net. But we will see some defense pairings that are possible Game 1 pairings (Rielly-Lyubushkin / Benoit-McCabe).

The Joel Edmundsson – Timothy Liljegren pairing is up 5-1 in five-on-five goals together, although it comes despite poor underlying numbers (43% CF, 44% xGF), and they need more pre-playoff reps — individually and together — after missed time due to recent injuries to both players.

Game Day Quotes

Sheldon Keefe on what type of game he is expecting given the circumstances for both teams:

I don’t know. We will see. They’re playing for something that is not totally in their hands. It is still game #81. Both teams know they are playing for something bigger that is coming.

I am not concerned about their group. I am concerned about ours and wanting to make sure we play with good habits, good structure, and all of the things we’ve been talking about wanting to tighten up.

As much as it is difficult to find meaning in the game, you want to tighten up your details and make that the purpose of it.

Keefe on how he might manage the minutes of his top players:

Relatively normal in terms of playing to win the game. You’d like to see it closer to where it has been over the last few weeks rather than where it was the other night. But we are going to play the game, too.

Any time you put your gear on, you are playing to win the game and respond accordingly. You hope you don’t have to stress your guys too much.

Ryan Reaves on facing a potential round-one opponent in game #81:

These last couple of games should set the tone for our team. We are playing a team we might play in the playoffs. You have to set the tone for that series. I know they are going to try to do the same in their barn. We have to match that. We have to outdo that.

Paul Maurice on the strategy for preventing Auston Matthews from scoring his 70th in Florida:

It won’t matter because he has almost 70 of them and everyone is geared up to stop him. That has no effect.

It is more of a Toronto thing. I would do the exact same thing. At this time of year, with them locked up, he is coming out one out of four at best. But when you are sitting on 69 goals and there is an offensive-zone draw, he is coming back out. And you have to.

There is not a rest issue here. We are all getting two or three days off after this game and he is going to be 100% fresh. I hope he gets it. I would prefer it wasn’t tonight, but it is a phenomenal story and such an unusual thing to happen.

I would be the same way. We were cheering for Sam Reinhart to get 50. 50 goals is a big deal, and then you get someone closing in on 70…

We just want it not to be tonight. We will focus on their elite players the same way we would every game. Hopefully, he’ll get it tomorrow.

Maurice on his lineup decisions for the final regular-season game:

We’ll play to win. If our team has something on the line, we will dress everybody who is healthy and ready to go, which I like. I’m not a fan of sitting guys out because then you’re a week between games, and I’m not a big fan of that. Everybody plays.

Verhaeghe is good to go, so he’s back in the lineup tonight. Ekman-Larsson won’t play; he could, but there was no sense in putting him in. Away we go.

Maurice on whether there is a message-sending opportunity tonight ahead of a possible Leafs vs. Panthers series:

I never really believed in that. What happens tonight will have nothing to do with how you come into the first game of the playoffs.

Both teams have a healthy respect for the other team. They have also had enough success in games. The games have been exciting and loose this year during the regular season. A little bit more loose than we will see in the playoffs.

Because we know each other so well, there is no new wrinkle, secret, or idea. They have great players. We have great players. If we play each other it will be a hell of a series.

Maurice on the return of Carter Verhaeghe to the Panthers’ lineup:

When Carter went down, our power play went down a little bit. He’s the fixer on it because he can get on a puck from a corner, and he is such a good skater that his puck retrieval is great. When you’re banging around and everybody thinks we’re trying to get it to Reinhart, Verhaeghe gets it in an unusual spot, and it’s bar down and in. It is one or two when you need it for your power play to stay hot. He has kind of been the fixer for our power play.

This is fairly close to our (full) forward group. It doesn’t feel like we’ve had that since Calgary five weeks ago. I don’t feel like we have had our group together once. We will get fairly close to it.

Ekblad will definitely be ready for Game 1, and Ekman-Larsson will be back in. Other than the things we can’t control regarding tonight’s game and the practices this week, we should be pretty healthy.

Sheldon Keefe on the team’s superior form on the road compared to home:

It is difficult to pinpoint why it is. We just know it is a thing. We have performed well. I think our mindset has been good on the road and maybe not as good at home. Maybe there are different reasons for that. I don’t know what you would really be able to grab onto there.

I do know we are confident that we can have success wherever we play if we get to our game. We seem to have been able to get to our game more consistently on the road this season. To that end, wherever the games may be played, we will be confident going in, just knowing that we will have to have our game in order no matter what building we’re in.

John Tavares on the team’s strength on the road this season:

We really like how our game has been really poised no matter the situation or scenario on the road. We have handled it very well. Whether momentum is going our way or against us, our ability to stay with it, grab the game back, and grab momentum… Whatever the game has called for, we have responded to whatever is required.

Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Florida Panthers

In the season-to-date statistics, the Leafs hold the advantage over the Panthers in four out of five offensive categories, but the Panthers hold the advantage in five out of five defensive categories.

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#23 Matthew Knies – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#89 Nick Robertson – #29 Pontus Holmberg – #18 Noah Gregor
#24 Connor Dewar – #64 David Kampf – #75 Ryan Reaves

#44 Morgan Rielly – #46 Ilya Lyubushkin
#2 Simon Benoit – #22 Jake McCabe
#20 Joel Edmundson – #37 Timothy Liljegren

Starter: #60 Joseph Woll
#35 Ilya Samsonov

Scratched/Resting: Martin Jones, TJ Brodie, Conor Timmins, Mark Giordano
Injured: Max Domi, Bobby McMann, Calle Jarnkrok

Florida Panthers Projected Lines

#10 Vladimir Tarasenko – #16 Aleksander Barkov – #13 Sam Reinhart
#23 Carter Verhaeghe – #9 Sam Bennett – #19 Matthew Tkachuk
#27 Eetu Luostarinen – #15 Anton Lundell – #17 Evan Rodrigues
#12 Jonah Gadjovich – #82 Kevin Stenlund – #21 Nick Cousins

#42 Gustav Forsling – #62 Brandon Montour
#77 Niko Mikkola – #26 Uvis Balinskis
#28 Josh Mahura  – #7 Dmitry Kulikov

Starter: #41 Anthony Stolarz
#72 Sergei Bobrovsky

Injured/Out: Aaron Ekblad, Oliver Ekman-Larsson