Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors: Campbell, Spezza & Nylander

After the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe reviewed the text of the first four games and then explained what his team needed to do. As he put it, ”The way the series has gone is that 2-0 has become four or five. We needed to flip that script.”

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Finally, for the first time in the five-game series, there was actually a lead change. The team that scored the first goal did not win the game. And, a team that was behind by more than one goal came back for the win. Thankfully for Maple Leafs’ fans, it was their team. Suddenly, there’s hope in the quickly fading shadows of the Game 4 loss.

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The Maple Leafs still have a game to win, but they’re ahead three games to two games, and that’s pretty special. In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look at the events of the game and try to comment on what they might mean for the team as it moves forward. 

Item One: Jack Campbell Pulls Up His Chin Strap

Maple Leafs’ goalie Jack Campbell saved 32 of the 35 shots he faced in the Game 5 come-from-behind win over the Lightning. In an earlier post, we obviously had jinxed Campbell because we pointed out that he had outplayed last season’s Conn Smythe winner for the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs Andrei Vasilevskiy. Campbell immediately had a stinker in Game 4. Last night our post proved prescient. 

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Talk about standing up to a difficult night. The Maple Leafs were out-shot by double digits (35-25). Then the Lightning quickly scored two goals in the first period. Then, after the first-period intermission, where Jason Spezza ordered the room, the team came back. Good on Campbell for holding his team in the game until the offense got rolling. He was clearly the better goalie last night.

Item Two: Jason Spezza: The Speach Maker

Perhaps it’s my age, but over the seasons that I’ve covered the Maple Leafs, I’ve come to appreciate the veteran leadership the team has had. Appropriately, on a night when Patrick Marleau officially announced his retirement from the NHL, his recent stand-in on the team Jason Spezza came through with a pep talk (actually probably two pep talks) to help rally his team. 

Related: Is it Time for Maple Leafs’ Jason Spezza to Hang Up His Skates?

The Hockey Night in Canada panel (rightfully) made a deal of Spezza’s conversation at the bench with Campbell during a television timeout. Then the word got out that Spezza commanded the dressing room during the first and second period’s intermission. What he said – and probably more that he said it (it was the elephant in the room) – changed the play on the ice.

According to accounts, when the 38-year-old Spezza took the dressing-room stage after another poor start, his message was simple really. He noted the margin for error getting smaller and smaller against two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay and he encouraged his troops to find another gear.

Jason Spezza Toronto Maple Leafs
Jason Spezza, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After the game, the reviews of his teammates were good. Captain John Tavares, who was credited with a goal, shared that  ”Spezz really spoke well.. ‘We obviously needed to find another level.” 

William Nylander, who scored a great goal and added two assists, also added that “He’s a great leader. When he says something, everybody listens.”

Spezza played less than six minutes during the game.

Item Three: William Nylander Is Exactly Who He Is: William Nylander

William Nylander seems to be one of those players who, in one minute, can drive his coaches crazy; then, can immediately wow them with his amazing skills. Last night, he did both the hard things and the skillful things in helping to lead his team to a win. 

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When the game had ended, Nylander had registered a three-point game that could not have come at a better time. He scored a goal and added two assists (having a hand in the team’s first three goals of the game) helping to remove a 2-0 deficit after one period and turn it into a 3-2 lead. 

William Nylander, Morgan Reilly
Toronto Maple Leafs Morgan Rielly celebrates with teammate William Nylander.

After Nylander had failed to rack up a single point during the first three games of the series, over the past two games he’s scored three goals and added two assists.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Toronto is now within a single game of winning a playoff series for the first time since 2004. Now, the Maple Leafs must win one of two games to successfully move past the first round of a playoff series. If they can do so, they’d be able to beat the reigning Stanley Cup champion Lightning. 

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Such a win would be an accomplishment not to be taken lightly. This Lightning team is a strong team. It works hard, It has NHL stars. They’re not releasing their hold on the Stanley Cup lightly. 

But this season’s team has a bit of a William Nylander persona. It can frustrate fans on one hand and can produce amazing hockey on the other. After five 2021-22 postseason games, we know that the team has some jam. They push back. 

Last night was a good game for the Maple Leafs.

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