After Friday’s practice, Sheldon Keefe discussed the status of William Nylander and Auston Matthews, whether he will make a change on the blue line for Game 4, and the physicality of the series.

Practice Lines – Apr. 26

How did William Nylander look to your eye, and what is his status moving forward?

Keefe: He looked great on the ice to me. We will have to determine his status tomorrow.

How is Auston Matthews doing?

Keefe: Things are okay. He needed another day today to help restore his energy, recharge, and all of those kinds of things. We will see where he is at tomorrow as well.

What have you learned about Matthews’ ability to battle through when he is not feeling his best?

Keefe: I just know Auston will give us everything he has. I would say the same about his game the other night. To me, he played extremely hard and had a couple of chances that could’ve fallen his way and didn’t. The one off the post comes to mind. He played really hard, and it might’ve been his most physical game of the series. He felt he didn’t have it in other ways, so he was trying to impact the game in different spots.

As he has shown with his performance in Game 2—an important game for us—and throughout the season, he has given us everything he has. Because of that, as a coaching and medical staff, you want to give him every opportunity to be at his best tomorrow.

What would getting him back for Game 4 mean to the team?

Keefe: He is a very important player for us in many regards. It’s about getting him to full health and making sure he is ready to step into a series of this calibre at this time of year and all of this kind of stuff. That would be the next step.

Is it a difficult decision regarding who comes out if Nylander returns?

Keefe: It is. The guys have done a good job. The guys who are in a conversation to come out offer different things to the lineup and have done a good job. The first situation is figuring out where Willy [stands] and his availability. We will make a determination from there.

Yesterday and today, there have been many conversations about what we think is best, which is a sign that the players have done a good job of making things difficult.

Do you expect Ilya Lyubushkin to be an option for Game 4?

Keefe: I do. He is on his way back here (from California). We will first make sure he gets back and see how he feels tomorrow. We will make a determination from there.

It is kind of a tough couple of days, but it is exciting at the same time. From his perspective, it has been on his mind while his family has been away. They’ve welcomed a new addition and had it go smoothly, considering this gap in the schedule. We will have to get him back and make sure he is ready to go.

Outside of Lyubushkin’s status, are you considering a change on the backend?

Keefe: We are looking at some different things. We have the Lyubushkin situation. We have some health stuff to get through. We will see where the group stands coming out of today’s practice and make a determination on that as well.

What is the message to TJ Brodie after three games out of the lineup to ensure he is ready to go?

Keefe: Going into the playoffs—and I had talked to him even when the regular season was going on—the message is that it is important to stay ready. It was looking like he was going to be on the outside, but he has a lot of experience. We wanted to have a look going into the playoffs—one we have liked—but it is important for him to stay ready.

It’s not just him; Timmins and Giordano are the same. Things can change really quickly at playoff time. In Brodie’s case, he played so much in the regular season and has so much experience in the league and in the playoffs. It is important that he keeps his mindset right, but it is tough for a guy like him who is used to playing every day.

Game 4 had another high hit count at 133 hits. The Panthers and Lightning combined for nearly 150. What stands out about the physicality of this year’s playoffs, and how taxing is it on the players?

Keefe: I think the numbers are higher than ever because they are counting them different than they ever have. In playoffs, it goes without saying. It’s physical. Players are closing space quicker than they do in the regular season, and they are finishing with authority. There is no question that is the case.

You referenced the other series from our division. Our division is very physical. It is a very tough division. It is not a surprise that it is the case there. I don’t expect that to change, especially with a couple of days between Game 3 and Game 4.

As a coach, how are you handling the ups and downs and the curveballs of a playoff series different than you would have a few years ago?

Keefe: With experience, I would like to think you improve. But, before I coached in the NHL, I coached in the playoffs a lot at various levels. No matter what level you are at, the curveballs, the ups, the downs, and the emotional swings don’t change. That is the reality of the playoffs. It is the most exciting part. You are on top of the world on one shift, period, or game. On the next, you are searching for answers. It is kind of the way it goes.

If anything, over time and with experience, you recognize that the most important thing is to stay even-keeled, continue to believe in your team, and help them find ways to win.