The Toronto Maple Leafs have a chance to close out their first-round playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on home ice. The Maple Leafs hold a 3-1 series lead after winning two straight overtime games on the road.
In this post, I’ll look at and build off the recent Sportsnet video below where Shawn McKenzie and Luke Fox discuss Sheldon Keefe’s decision to make Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting a healthy scratch. That decision now makes room for Matthew Knies to continue his play. The video also discusses how the Maple Leafs have been able to bother Lighting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Key Points Made in the Video
Item One: The Lightning Look to Mount Another Comeback
The Maple Leafs are up in their first-round series by three games to one. Can the Lightning come back? It might be tough, but nothing can be taken for granted. The Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Final in each of the past three seasons. They had also won two Stanley Cups in a row until the Colorado Avalanche beat them last season. While mounting a comeback to stay alive in this series is tough, the Lightning could do it.
They trailed Toronto 3-2 in games in the first round last season and came back to win the next two games. They won Game 7 at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper is confident that his team can come away with a win in Toronto, despite the tough task of facing elimination. He pointed to the team’s past success in Toronto’s home arena during the playoffs.
Related: IS THIS THE WEEK THE MAPLE LEAFS START SOMETHING VERY SPECIAL?
Item Two: Game 5 Injuries and Lineup Changes
Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak will miss Game 5 due to the hit to the head from Michael Bunting in Game 1. That hit resulted in a three-game suspension for Bunting. Matthew Knies, who replaced Bunting, will remain in the lineup for Game 5.
For some, the Maple Leafs’ Game 5 lineup is a bit of a surprise. Given that Bunting has been such a key piece of the lineup, it could be seen as a bit of a risky move. Bunting had played in all 82 games of the regular season. Yet, he’s a healthy scratch, and Matthew Knies will replace him. He’s not Bunting, but he brings more defence to his game.
In the video, Fox and McKenzie discuss the decision, with Fox noting that the move might have less to do with Bunting and more to do with the Maple Leafs’ depth and the strong start by Knies.
Item Three: Knies Has Shone with a Strong NHL Start
The twosome believes coach Keefe’s decision to bring in Knies has proven to be a good one. Perhaps Knies best play was his key defensive gem in Game 4, where he pulled the puck off the goal line. Keefe praised Knies, saying he’s “just a good hockey player” with a solid 200-foot game.
The move to continue to include Knies in the lineup highlights the team’s depth and shows the team’s willingness to switch things up. The bottom line is winning and the entire team seems on board with that goal.
Related: Former Maple Leaf Garry Valk Remembers His 1999 OT Winner
Item Four: Maple Leafs Are Creating Screens to Bother Vasilevskiy
One key factor in the Maple Leafs’ success against the Lightning has been their ability to create screens and get traffic in front of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. Despite his impressive record, Vasilevskiy has struggled in these playoffs. His save percentage is well below 900.
Finally, Vasilevskiy spoke with the media and acknowledged the Maple Leafs’ strategy in a recent interview. He stated that they are doing a great job with screens. Toronto will look to continue this approach. Again, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Schenn, Bunting, Knies & Holl
Item Five: This Week Might Be the Maple Leafs Chance to Exorcise Some Demons
This week might be special in that the Maple Leafs are eyeing the opportunity to exorcise their playoff demons for many years. But, given what happened with the Boston Bruins last night losing on home ice to the Florida Panthers, winning – even at home – is tough.
Now the team has a chance to win four games in a row against the Lightning. It’s a golden opportunity to exercise their playoff demons and move into the next round. The team’s strong overall play, including their resilience, gives them confidence that they are never out of a game.
In addition, the decision to include Knies in the lineup has given Toronto a boost. However, they will need to continue to do what’s working – create screens and disrupt Vasilevskiy’s game. If they can, there’s a chance they can come out on top.
Will this finally be the year that the Leafs break their playoff curse?
Related: 7 Reasons Maple Leafs Practice Patience by Sitting Bunting