Can the Toronto Maple Leafs win Game 4 and move for the first time in almost 20 seasons into a second round of the NHL’s postseason playoffs? In yesterday’s post, I shared some of the good news from an almost euphoric Blue and White nation after the team won Game 3 against the Montreal Canadiens convincingly.
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Today, there’s additional good news, so I thought it might be worthwhile to engage in a second good news day in a row.
Good News Item One: John Tavares Is Skating Again
The best news of the day for the Maple Leafs is that John Tavares was on the ice skating today. Yesterday, Tavares went to the Maple Leafs’ practice facility. Although it was an off-day for the team, a number of teammates were there receiving treatments. Just the fact that Tavares showed up suggests that he’s improving.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe shared that, “John is here today re-acclimating himself to the group and getting back going. There are a lot of really positive things both in his recovery and having him around our group.”
Even without the concussion, which was the initial concern, Tavares will be sidelined at least through June 3 because of a knee injury he suffered during the accident. There’s still no timeline for his return from the concussion; and, in the long run, that could be the biggest medical concern. The point is that the Maple Leafs’ captain still has a lot of work ahead of him and there’s lots up in the air before he can return to the lineup.
That said, today’s tweet from Chris Johnston was even more encouraging. Tavares was skating today, and that’s very good news.
Good News Item Two: The Maple Leafs Didn’t Trade Alex Kerfoot
No, Alex Kerfoot isn’t perfect; but, he’s good. And, he’s so darn flexible. He seems able to fit in anywhere in the lineup and add value. He’s certainly helped push the offense by centering a highly-effective second line unit of Alex Galchenyuk and the explosive William Nylander. Kerfoot’s always where the finger points when it comes to moving a player; but, he’s a great fit for the team.
In Tuesday’s Game 4, Kerfoot had three assists and was plus-3 in the 4-0 win over the Canadiens. Together the second line combined for seven points as the team won what many hockey fans believe is the most difficult game of any playoff series – Game 4. It was Kerfoot’s first three-point game with the Maple Leafs, and he’s now tied for the team lead in points with five for the series (along with Nylander).
However, not only is Kerfoot scoring, but he’s been a problem for the Canadiens during the series. Because he’s on the smaller side, I’m not sure everyone sees the kind of edge he has to his game. He’s been an effect “pest.”
But coming around to what I believe his key attribute is – his flexibility, he’s stepped in to play a bigger role with the team with other key members down with injuries. He’s not Tavares, but he can take his place for a game or two. He’s not even Nick Foligno, but he can fill in admirably. The team needs players like him. The good news is, he’s here.
Good News Item Three: We Knew Jason Spezza Was There, Now We’re Seeing Him Fully
Jason Spezza has been a revelation this series. He’s always been good value for his salary-cap hit, but recently his place has been growing with the team and his natural leadership is beginning to emerge. He might have grown into my new favorite player during this series. What tipped the scales was that, when Tavares on the ice, Spezza kept up a five-minute conversation to keep his captain mentally comfortable and alert. Tavares, who was woozy, said later he knew Spezza was talking to him and he appreciated it.
The 37-year-old Spezza has had a great series and has scored two goals and an assist. He’s also amazingly been open regularly and has been stopped more often than he’s succeeded. In the best save of the entire series for either team, Canadiens’ goalie Carey Price absolutely robbed Spezza with an incredible stick save during Game 3. Price stopped Spezza on a breakaway during Game 4. However, the vintage warrior just kept getting his chances and finally scored the Maple Leafs’ insurance goal Tuesday.
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The experienced Spezza, who’s probably been stoned many times during his career, honored his opponent by admitting, “He’s (Price) probably the best goalie of our generation so it’s just important that you don’t get frustrated when saves get made. Saves are going to be made at times. When you’re getting chances it’s usually a good sign. I expect him to make saves. You’re not going to score every time. You just have to stay with it.”
Another thing I’ve noticed is that Spezza has been a go-to quote for the media over and over again during the series. He seems to be growing into a spokesman with and for the team; and, quite honestly, there’s something special about the way Spezza carries himself as a person and a player. It really gives the team a good look with the public.
Jumbo Joe Thornton’s similar in that regard. Those two older players and leaders have tweaked the organizational culture with their positive attitudes. That adds fuel to the forward momentum to where I believe this organization wants to go.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
I always end my News & Rumors posts with the question “What’s New for the Maple Leafs?” However, today it seems a bit moot. With the Maple Leafs winning consecutive playoff games in Montreal for the first time since the 1967 Stanley Cup final, they are on the verge of advancing to the second round of a playoff series. They haven’t done that since 2004.
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Over the history of the franchise, the Maple Leafs have compiled a 11-1 record when leading a series 3-1. This season is the first time the team has had a 3-1 lead in a series since 1987. Obviously, anything can happen, but it looks good for the team.
If the Canadiens can beat the Maple Leafs and force a Game 6, the game would be played in Montreal on Saturday. And for the first time during the season, both teams might experience fans in the stands. The word is that the Quebec government would allow 2,500 fans into the Bell Centre.
That’s news because it would be the first NHL crowd in Canada since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. My hope is that the Maple Leafs will wait for another season before they make that kind of news.