Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
7:30 p.m. on HNIC, CBC, SN, TVAS, ESPN2, BSSUN
The series returns to Toronto tied at two all, and the Leafs are looking to reclaim the lead with a win.
Note that the draw is scheduled for 6:30 a.m. and may be available live on the channel you have chosen for this game.
Assuming they stick to the range that worked last time, it should be something like:
Ondrej Palat – Steven Stamkos – Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Anthony Cirelli – Brayden Point
Brandon Hagel-Nick Paul-Ross Colton
Patrick Maroon – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Corey Perry
Victor Hedman – Erik Cernak
Ryan McDonagh – Zach Bogosian
Mikhail Sergachev – Cal Foote
Jan Rutta may retire.
Sheldon Keefe mixed things up for both games in Tampa, with mixed results (understatement of the year). Now he’s back to what I think is his favorite formation. He has obvious core values tied to this team:
- Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner must play together unless one of them is on IR.
- John Tavares is unlikely to play with William Nylander, even though Nylander is an obvious front-six striker.
- William Nylander is expected to play on the third line with tougher teammates who also have the ability to play rushing play in supporting roles.
- Justin Holl is a safer option than Timothy Liljegren.
- Michael Bunting is the best option on the front row.
- Ondřej Kaše is not quite up to the front nine.
- The four best defense pairs are defined.
This gives us:
Michael Bunting – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
Ilya Mikheiev – John Tavares – Alex Kerfoot
William Nylander – David Kämpf – Pierre Engvall
Jason Spezza – Colin Blackwell – Ondrej Kase
Morgan Rielly – Ilya Lyubushkin
Jake Muzzin – TJ Brodie
Mark Giordana – Justin Holl
The front three lines must play at or above the level of the Lightning most of the time. That’s the formula for winning a playoff game. You can talk endlessly about that third-pairing defender you saw making a mistake, or the goalkeepers, or this-and-that striker and their “production”, but in the end it’s just effects. Disease symptoms. Winning conditions are created long before someone makes a mistake or a goalkeeper makes a save.
Hockey is a five-on-five game, even in these weird playoffs with a whole new reffing system forced upon us all. The Matthews line spent the regular season as the NHL’s second-best five-on-five line. They haven’t spent the post-season enjoying that success, but it’s not like the two-time Cup champions are an average NHL team, so expect the incredible stats Sidney Crosby is pitting against. to the unfortunate Rangers is unrealistic. But all three lines must bring their best game.
Win it five against five and you will win the game. Lose there and you need luck or a goalie lag to get it to you.
Sheldon Keefe believes in this line structure. He thinks it’s going to beat the Lightning or whoever else comes later. He’s betting his future on it. He’s betting the playoffs on it. He’s betting your hopes on it.
Go the leaves go