“You don’t want to give life to teams.” – Sheldon Keefe
Tampa – The Toronto Maple Leafs had two chances to eliminate the Boston Bruins in 2019, one to beat the Columbus Bluejackets in 2020, and three chances to cut the Montreal Canadiens race to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final on the knees.
In each case, they failed to take care of the business.
Lose Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Lightning, and it will be nearly impossible not to let old fears fade with the mindset heading home for the possible decision on Saturday.
We had chances last year, and we didn’t make it. We know that. Then you get Game 7 and anything can happen,” says Jason Spezza.
“There has to be an urgency, an urgency similar to what we had in the last match to come back from below [2-0]. That urgency should follow us to Tampa.”
Does this version of Leaf have the necessary killer instinct to lust for it in Six?
“Until you do, I don’t think anyone has that,” Spezza said. “You are trying to learn from the mistakes of the past.”
Keefe adjusts the power of play
In Game 5’s disastrous opening period, Lightning outstripped Maple Leafs 8-0 in solid play.
Keefe adjusted in the second half, switching Morgan Riley from the point to Mark Giordano in first, and Giordano channeled a crucial pass into a powerful Jon Tavares goal that returned the victory.
“Getting a clean look was a challenge,” Keefe said. “With Geo’s shot, he’s more poised and more programmed to steer the puck into the net. Morgan, all season long, has been a distributor at the top.”
In a streak of 225 penalty kicks over 300 minutes of play (John Cooper says “You’re just waiting to raise your arm”), the specials were crucial.
The screws hold the edge.
The No. 1 regular season power game in Toronto fell from 27.3 percent to 16.7 percent, ranking sixth among playoff teams.
Lightning taps by 21.4 percent (fourth).
Pat Marron said: “It was a strange playoff for me. I’ve never seen so many penalties in the playoffs before. It looks like it’s pre-season again with all the calls.”
How does Cooper frame the response
In this series of Counterpunch, Tampa will be looking to expand on their ridiculous 16-0 winning streak after a post-season loss.
Coach Cooper has been steadily beating the drum: The Maple Leafs didn’t outperform his group as much as giving Lightning Toronto plenty of “freebies.”
He’s not entirely wrong: Tampa has taken three too many men’s penalties on the ice and a pair of fouls for putting the ball over glass.
We don’t make them earn it. “We kind of give them that,” said Cooper, who now doesn’t care about any media hype surrounding a series.
“Not riding the emotions of the game or the series or anything like that. It’s a complete and absolute focus on getting our job done during the game, not trying to let outside noises from anywhere influence what we’re going to do.
“I’ve learned to take a breath instead of holding my breath.”
Even with the champs reaching their last moments, Cooper cleverly tried to turn the weight on his opponent.
“Is there pressure on them? There is no doubt. They are human. They will feel it. No doubt. We’ve been through some of these situations. We’ve won these kind of games before,” Cooper said.
“It’s not like they didn’t think about it. But on the other hand, who knows? They might use it as motivation. But until you start winning these games, there will always be doubt in your mind.”
Given the strengths and weaknesses of these two seasoned fighters destined for the series, critics unanimously gave the decisive advantage to Andrei Vasilevskiy – the man who won the Cup rings, the Vezina Cups and Conn Smythe.
Well, Vasilevsky is also the guy with a 0.880 save ratio, the worst among any goalkeeper in the playoffs with at least three games.
Toronto’s Jack Campbell (slightly better at 0.95) has a legitimate chance of outperforming his more accomplished counterpart.
After upsetting the debacle of Game 4 and two giving up early in Game 5, Campbell held up and made a series of quality stops, giving the skaters in front of him time to rally and find their step.
Spitza said, “He knew there were matches within matches. And those two goals, there is nothing he can do. He really calmed himself down and was exceptional for us and gave us a chance. The reason we won this match was Jack Campbell.”
You’ll remember Campbell beat himself up for the looseness he let Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher in Game 7 last May, calling it “the worst goal of my career.”
He’s been kinder to himself in the series, despite winning more pucks.
“A lot of ordeals in the playoffs, especially over the years, but we’re focused on them now,” Campbell says.
“the win [in Game 5] He really excited our group and gave us a great deal of confidence.”
Maple Leaf Predicted Game 6 Assortment
Darsa – Matthews – Marner
Mikheev – Tavares – Kervot
Nylander – kamph – engval
Spiza – Blackwell – Cassie
Riley – Lyubushkin
Muzzin – Brody
Giordano – Hall