The Toronto Maple Leafs paid a visit to Philadelphia on Saturday night to take on the Flyers on their way to Florida. The team obviously had the Sunshine state on their minds and almost overlooked the fact that they had a hockey game to win. That was the way it seemed with the way this game started.
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We have to guess that, as their head coach Sheldon Keefe noted after the game, the team probably thought it was going to be an easy game. It wasn’t. Honestly, we can’t blame the team for looking ahead. We once heard Maple Leafs’ commentator and former Toronto Marlies assistant coach Justin Bourne note that, as an NHL hockey player, it’s really tough to get up for each game. They come so fast.
Comment One: As the Flyers and Maple Leafs Game Unfolded
The Flyers dominated the early going getting the first five shots on the net on their way to outshooting the Maple Leafs 11- 6 in the opening period. Jack Campbell, in his first start in almost a month due to a rib injury, was the difference. He stopped all 11 shots he faced including four high-danger chances.
Philadelphia began the second period the same way they started the first, firing four shots on Campbell to start the period. They were rewarded on their 15th shot of the game and fourth of the period when, for some reason, T.J. Brodie decided to follow the puck out to his blue line on a lost face-off leaving the Flyers with an odd-man advantage down low. They cashed in on that situation.
Brodie would make up for that gaffe about six minutes later with a long stretch pass from his own zone to a “streaking” Wayne Simmonds who had snuck in behind the Flyers’ defense. Simmonds converted to score his first goal in 33 games.
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The teams traded two more goals to finish the period 2-2. Finally, the Maple Leafs’ offense came to life in the third period outscoring the Flyers 4 -1 to win their fourth game in a row.
Sheldon Keefe had the lines in a blender for the first half of the game in an effort to get the Maple Leafs going. Not only did it seem to work, but it also gave Keefe some different looks that he could possibly use in the future. Once the team got its legs going, Keefe reverted back to the lines he’s used over the past few games.
Late in the game, once the Maple Leafs pulled away, we saw very little of the Matthews line. That also seems like a smart move by Keefe with the Florida games coming up.
Comment Two: Jack Campbell Wasn’t Disappointing
All eyes were on Jack Campbell. The success of the Maple Leafs during the postseason is likely on his shoulders. He didn’t disappoint. He held the team in the game until they found their legs. His numbers weren’t great. He only finished the game with a 0.909 save percentage and a 3.00 goals-against average, but he made the stops he needed to make to help the team to victory. He didn’t let in a single soft goal.
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We’ve been saying all along that Campbell didn’t need to be as good as he was in the first half of this season for the Maple Leafs to win. He just needed to be good enough. He needs to stop the shots a competent NHL goalie should stop. He did that in this game.
Obviously, the Maple Leafs’ fans noticed that, too. We even noticed some “Soup” chants from the crowd in the arena.
Hopefully, last night’s game was a game Campbell, and the Maple Leafs, can build from. They’ll need to play very well during their back-to-back games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers to come home with a positive result.
Comment Three: Morgan Rielly Is Hot
We’ll say it again: Morgan Rielly is hot. He snuck in from the point to score the 5-3 insurance goal in the third period and added assists on Pierre Engvall’s shorthanded goal as well as Auston Matthews’ 51st goal to open the scoring in the third period. This was Rielly’s second three-point night in four games. He’s scored three goals and added six assists to give him nine points in his last four games.
Rielly now has 58 points in 68 games played this season and is just 14 points shy of his career-best 72 point season with 14 games left to play. It’s not inconceivable that Rielly could surpass that total this season, especially if he keeps playing like he has this past week. He’s also jumped from ninth in NHL scoring by a defenseman up to sixth and sits two points behind Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins for fifth.
What’s Ahead for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs now travel to Tampa to take on the Lightning Monday night in a four-point game for second place in the Atlantic Division. The Montreal Canadiens did the Maple Leafs a favor Saturday night, upsetting the Lightning 4 -3 in a shootout. The one point Tampa picked up in that game left the Maple Leafs and the Lightning tied for second with 93 points. Both teams are seven points behind the division-leading Panthers who had a wild comeback against the New Jersey Devils Saturday night.
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The Panthers were down 6-2 going into the third period in that game. They scored four goals in the third period, including two with their goalie pulled, before Gustav Forsling fired home the winner for the Panthers in overtime. Both the Maple Leafs and the Lightning are two points up on the Boston Bruins as the Bruins downed the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 Saturday night.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]