Maple Leafs’ Campbell Better Because of Adversity

Within all the dynamic activity of the first two Stanley Cup games between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, Jack Campbell has been flying under the radar. However, notice him or not, the Maple Leafs’ goalie has been rock solid during the first two games of this playoff series.

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Two Different Games, Two Different Outcomes: One Steady Feature

The Maple Leafs played two completely different playoff games with very different outcomes. At the start of the first game, the Montreal Canadiens came out physically and the Maple Leafs didn’t keep up. Then, everything exploded for the team when John Tavares went down, even worse was so obviously concussed, and was stretchered off the ice.

Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares
Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

No excuse for the Maple Leafs’ play, but that had to be devastating for the team. Although the Maple Leafs came back to tie the game, Tavares’ injury hit the team hard. In fact, during a post-game interview head coach Sheldon Keefe noted how bothered he and the team were by the injury.

Keefe was quoted as saying, “I’ve experienced a lot of different things, a lot of tough injuries and stuff like that in my time as a player and as a coach. That was probably the most uncomfortable situation that I’ve been a part of on the ice. It was really tough to get through. Our players were rattled and concerned.” (from ‘The game takes a back seat.’ John Tavares injury overshadows Leafs’ Game 1 loss to Canadiens,” Kevin McGran, Toronto Star, 20/05/21).

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During the second game, the Maple Leafs came out more physically and determined. They absolutely dominated the game and controlled the puck for almost the entire second period, which was helped greatly by four consecutive power plays given by Canadiens’ penalties. In fact, the 5-1 victory was an honest score, given the total domination by the Maple Leafs.

Through All That, Campbell Stays Firm in Net Over Two Games

However, during all that dynamic play on the ice, one Maple Leafs’ player who’s seemed to have flown almost completely under the radar was goalie Campbell. If Tavares had not been injured, the Campbell storyline might be the biggest of the series. There was a question about his lack of playoff experience and the fact that he’d not even had many NHL starts. But he’s been absolutely solid in net during the first two games.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

If you’re a Maple Leafs’ fan, that’s one of the best things that could have happened during these first two games. The other storyline is probably Rasmus Sandin, but that’s for another post.

Campbell was on his game during Game 1 and stopped 28 of 30 shots on net. But there at the other end of the ice was Carey Price, and it’s no sin to lose to the future Hall of Fame goalie. In the end, Campbell absorbed his first career playoff loss when his team only scored once during the game.

The 29-year-old Campbell seemed to take a few minutes during the first period to settle into Game 1, but only a desperate shot from his knees on a breakaway by the Canadiens’ Paul Byron beat Campbell for the Canadiens’ 2-1 game-winning goal. No fault on him for that goal.

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Game 2 was a different story in terms of goal support. During the game, Campbell stopped all but one of the 23 shots he faced on Saturday. The Canadiens took a 1-0 lead on Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s first-period goal, then Jason Spezza scored to right the ship and the team never looked back. Five unanswered goals later the series was tied one game each.

Coach Keefe’s Been Amazed by Campbell’s Play, But Not Because He’s Won

During an insightful interview on May 18, coach Keefe talked about how amazed he’s been by Campbell this season. Keefe noted that the goalie was a great teammate and a hard worker, but also lauded Campbell’s ability to fight through major adversity.

Specifically, Keefe noted We know Jack has been a great teammate and he is an incredibly hard worker, and we saw that he had the talent and ability to put together great games and get consecutive wins, but then adversity hit. We started to lose games as a team.”

Keefe added that Campbell “started to put together back-to-back starts that he wasn’t happy with. His ability to respond to that was the thing that we found out and really liked.”

According to Keefe, “That is where things really kind of turned the corner for him. At that point — for me, at least — it wasn’t just him getting hot and putting together a good string, but now that things were starting to go the other way, can you bring it back? He went into Winnipeg at a time when our team was reeling a little bit and really found his confidence in that game.”

Campbell’s Confidence Invigorated His Team

Keefe went on to link his team’s confidence with Campbell’s. He noted, “Our confidence as a team has really grown since then (the Jets’ victory). His ability to handle that adversity was just another layer to him when you bring in the personality, the energy, the positivity that he has, the work ethic. Those are things that anybody in hockey who has been around Jack Campbell speaks to. But he dealt with some adversity this season, met it head on, and turned the corner. That was a big moment for him.”

Interestingly, Keefe avers that Campbell’s a better goalie now because of the adversity he’s overcome. Keefe believes any good goalie can get on a roll when he’s confident and when things are working; and, Campbell did just that. Then things went south and that was Campbell’s watershed experience.  

Keefe bottom line is that Campbell’s a great goalie not better because he gained confidence when he set an NHL record for consecutive victories to begin an NHL regular season. In fact, quite the opposite. Campbell’s a better goalie because he met adversity, and he overcame it.

Likely Frederik Andersen Will Get a Start

So, here’s where we stand in the Maple Leafs vs. Canadiens’ series. Campbell has faced 53 shots on net and has only given up three goals. Unless disaster strikes, he’s the team’s number one goalie.

Related: Maple Leafs: Campbell’s Journey From ‘Lost Soul’ to Franchise Records

With back-to-back games coming tomorrow and Tuesday in Montreal, Frederik Andersen’s likely to get a playoff start. Andersen will likely be motivated. That can’t be bad. It would be great if the Maple Leafs had a strong goalie tandem if the team’s going to trek off on a long playoff journey.

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