I’m stunned. Like every other Toronto Maple Leafs’ fan, it seems, I said all the right things. “It’s not over until it’s over.” Or, “We can’t take the Montreal Canadiens for granted.” Or, “Let’s not look past this series.”
But, really, I did all those things.
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Now, after a snake-bit game – which hockey can be – that was filled with mistakes and bad penalties and an injury or two to overcome, the Maple Leafs face elimination on Monday night. Even if they beat the Canadiens and advance to the second round against the Winnipeg Jets – and it suddenly looks to Maple Leafs’ faithful that not advancing is a possibility – they might have to get at least two things back to move on. Their mojo and John Tavares.
That count might even move to three depending on the status of stalwart defenseman Jake Muzzin. Jake Muzzin left Game 6 during the second period with a lower-body injury – looks like a groin injury – and didn’t return. Similar to last season, he’ll be missed if he can’t play.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News, I’ll look at some of the news from the game and comment upon what it might mean to the team going forward.
Item One: Hockey Is Hockey, and That Makes It Interesting
One of the most interesting things about hockey is that the best team or the team that dominates doesn’t always win. You can’t blame the Maple Leafs for not trying – they did, at least during the last ten minutes of the third period and the overtime. During the overtime period, the Maple Leafs outshot the Canadiens 13-2; then, Jesperi Kotkaniemi made a great shot past Maple Leafs’ goalie Jack Campbell, and the game was over.
The other note about hockey is that it’s a much better game with fans in the stands. For the first time since the pandemic cancelled hockey, some Canadian fans were in attendance. That mattered to them.
The 20-year-old Kotkaniemi, noted as much. ”It’s pretty unbelievable. Remarkable … it’s a great feeling. Especially when the fans are in the stands. Gives you goosebumps.”
So did Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe, who added: ”The crowd and the push at the start was significant for them.”
Item Two: Neither Marner nor Matthews Were Able to Score in Game 6
Mitch Marner wasn’t able score for the 17th playoff game in a row. The last time he’s had a goal was during the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs against the Boston Bruins. He hasn’t scored since and has only four assists in six playoff games this season. He seems as jinxed as has a Maple Leafs’ team that hasn’t moved past a first-round playoff series since 2004.
More surprisingly, Auston Matthews also didn’t score during Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss. It was Matthews’ fifth game in six that he went without a goal. I say surprisingly because he was obviously working hard, had solid chances, and is playing lights out. Except he hasn’t scored. That power outage is hurting his team; and, should the Maple Leafs blow this series, his lack of production will be one of the big storylines.
Item Four: Jack Campbell Plays Well, Still Loses in Overtime
Another storyline in this series has been the great play of goalie Jack Campbell. Although he gave up three goals on 31 shots in the Game 6 loss, he held his team in this game when they were completely overwhelmed by the Canadiens for 50 of the game’s 60 minutes. In truth, the Maple Leafs didn’t deserve to win this game. Only because Campbell stopped pucks during the first two period when the Canadiens brought relentless pressure for two periods did they stand a chance.
I read today that coach Keefe might consider starting Frederik Andersen in Monday’s Game 7. That seems desperate and like a big mistake. Campbell’s showed up during this series and will likely be the Maple Leafs’ goalie of the future.
Campbell has been hurt by his team’s turnovers in front of him. The 29-year-old goalie has allowed seven goals in the last two overtime losses; however, he’s been better than anyone’s expected. The team simply didn’t help him, until it was too late. The Canadiens scored on two power plays (one 5-on-3); and, another surprise goal cost them in overtime. In the meantime, Campbell stood head-to-head with Carey Price and didn’t look out of his paygrade.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Coach Keefe seemed as stunned with his team as the rest of Maple Leafs’ nation.
Reading between the lines of his comment after the game, “We are a good team. If you look at the two games we have lost, we haven’t played nearly at our best, and yet both games were right there. When we have played well, we have been in control of games pretty well.”
He knows that his team has enough firepower to move past the Canadiens. What he doesn’t know and seems confused about is why they haven’t.
It’s now the best of one on Monday night. Firepower or not, it’s show-up time.