Tonight is the last game of the 2021-22 season, and a drastically reduced Toronto Maple Leafs’ team will meet their arch-rival the Boston Bruins tonight in a game that suddenly might mean more than first anticipated. Should the Bruins win tonight and the Tampa Bay Lightning lose in regulation to the Islanders in New York, the playoffs change a great deal.
For the past three weeks or so, the expectation was that the Maple Leafs and the Lightning would meet during the postseason’s first round. And, if the Lightning win in New York, that’s still the matchup. However, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that the Bruins and the Maple Leafs would meet – yet again – in the first round.
It might become interesting.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share some of the news that’s emerging from the team as it prepares to play Game 82 of the season. Actually, given the impact of the pandemic, it’s simply a miracle that the NHL season has been completed without even more disruption.
Item One: Time to Key Players Some Rest
When Auston Matthews hit the 60-goal mark against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 81, it also allowed the Maple Leafs to gain home-ice advantage for the start of the postseason playoffs. Suddenly, it seemed pretty clear that Matthews would take tonight off. Obviously, there are also a number of other players the coaching staff would like to sit for a breather.
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As a result, the Maple Leafs might have a bit of an interesting lineup for the game. There’s not much reason at all to play the starters. Matthews won’t play. As well, Mitch Marner and Jack Campbell will also wrap up their seasons where they currently are.
That means Matthews will finish his regular season having scored 60 goals and adding 46 assists (for 106 points) in 73 games. It also means that Marner won’t have a chance to hit the 100-point mark and ends his season with 35 goals and 62 assists (for 97 points) in 72 games. Finally, it means that Campbell’s 2021-22 record will finish with a career-best 31-9-6 (with five shutouts).
Item Two: Michael Bunting Is Coming Closer to Returning
Michael Bunting is another player who will sit tonight. However, his undisclosed (lower body) injury is better than first feared and he’s been back on the ice skating before practice. If he’s able to return soon during the postseason, that has to be good news for the team. He’s been a perfect partner for both Matthews and Marner on the team’s top line. He also plays the kind of game that will be appreciated during the postseason.
Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe seems to be a bit in the dark about how Bunting was doing with his injury rehab. After practice on Thursday, Keefe explained that he didn’t have “an official word” on what Bunting’s return plan might be but added that the staff was happy that Bunting “remained on the ice, and that the sessions have been positive.”
Item Three: John Tavares Might Also Take a Breather Tonight
At this point, it’s not clear whether Maple Leafs’ captain John Tavares will suit up tonight. He sat out a game earlier this week for load management, and he might also sit out tonight’s game as well.
Right now, a final decision hasn’t been made. However, that possibility is in the wind. Obviously, that decision will be made before game time.
Item Four: Erik Kallgren Will Get the Last Start of the Season
Young Swedish goalie Erik Kallgren has emerged this season as a bona fide prospect for the Maple Leafs. The team signed him in May 2021, to a two-year, two-way contract. At that time, not much was known about the 24-year-old Kallgren, who had been playing in Sweden.
However, he did help lead his Växjö HC team to the Swedish Hockey League Championship and posted a 7-3-0 record and a .937 save percentage in the process. He had been chosen by the Arizona Coyotes during the seventh round (183rd overall) of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
This season, he started far down the Maple Leafs’ list of goalie prospects. However, as misfortune would have it (to goalie Petr Mrazek) Kallgren emerged as the team’s regular backup goalie. He played some great games and some not-so-great games; still, he’s impressed fans with his calmness and steadiness under pressure. There aren’t a lot of moving parts in his game.
Tonight, he’ll be in the net for the last game of the regular season. In his last start against the Washington Capitals, he was solid. He’ll be seeking his eighth win of the season tonight.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
In news from the Toronto Marlies, Bobby McMann scored his 24th goal. That made him the leading rookie goal-scorer in Marlies’ franchise history with 24 goals on the season.
McMann is an undrafted 25-year-old center who played four years of NCAA hockey at Colgate University (in upstate New York). He’s from eastern Alberta. Congratulations to McCann on setting the record.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf