Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Tavares, Nylander, Campbell & Game 7

The Toronto Maple Leafs carried most of the second half of Game 6 and still lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in overtime by a score of 4-3. The team was done in by penalties and failed to score in overtime. What a letdown to the game. What a sinking feeling when the Lightning finally scored on goalie Jack Campbell.

Now what? 

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In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll share some of what happened during the 4-3 overtime loss. Then I’ll comment on what the loss means in the Maple Leafs’ scheme of things – insofar as I can tell right now. Game 7 could be a tipping point for this franchise.

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The truth is that everything hinges on Game 7 on home ice in Toronto. It’s a perfect script for either team; and, probably, it’s a perfect end to this tightly-contested series of two really good NHL teams. 

The truth is that, if my emotions and desires weren’t so heavily invested, it would be a great game to look forward to. As it is, like most of you I’ll be sitting on pins and needles Saturday night as the two teams go at it. Feast or famine, here we come.

Item One: John Tavares Is Trying Everything

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about John Tavares’ contribution to his team’s success. Specifically, although his underlying analytics have been poorer than normal, I wondered if he had been sacrificing his offense to concentrate on his defensive play.

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As I watch the games, I keep seeing Tavares sacrificing his body digging for pucks or working hard to win face-offs, where he’s been a star. Although he lost more than he won last night, over the six-game series he’s won 57 face-offs and lost only 31 (or a 64.8 percent success rate). 

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Last night, Tavares scored two goals in the 4-3 overtime loss to help his team rally and come back from another 2-0 deficit. Those goals came 26 seconds apart just before the second period ended to give the Maple Leafs a 3-2 lead heading into the third. 

The 31-year-old Maple Leafs’ captain now has scored three goals and added two assists (for five points) over his last three games. There’s no doubt that, when Game 7 comes, Tavares will be determined. The question is if he can stay hot into Game 7.

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After the game, Tavares was honest in his appraisal and looked both backward and forward when he noted that, as a team, we “had our looks in OT. Unfortunately, we weren’t the ones to cash in on our opportunities.” 

Then he looked toward Saturday’s game to say that “We worked hard all year to earn home ice, and we’ve got a great opportunity going home in front of our fans to try to close this thing out.” 

Tavares added that the team is looking forward “to the opportunity. It’s what the game’s all about.”

Item Two: William Nylander Has Continued to Put Up Points

William Nylander has been hot. Last night he assisted on both Auston Matthews’ goal in the middle of the second period and Tavares’ go-ahead goal with eight seconds left in the same period. Those two assists gave him three goals and four assists (for seven points) over his last three games. 

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Like his teammate Tavares, Nylander needs to keep up the pace to help his team move on to the second round. He finished the best regular season of his career with 34 goals and 46 assists (for 80 points) in 81 games.

Item Three: Goalie Jack Campbell’s Play Brought Down by Penalties

What an emotional roller coaster for a goalie – in this case, the Maple Leafs’ starter Jack Campbell. Just when things were going well in the third period, trouble came in the form of two high-sticking penalties that produced an extended five-on-three power play for the Lightning. In the end, that was the game. Although the Maple Leafs carried the play during much of the overtime, the team couldn’t find the back of the net.

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On the night, Campbell surrendered four goals on 35 shots to the Lightning. He was solid enough to win Game 6 but now has to be on the top of his game one more time to allow his team to win Game 7 on home ice. But, that’s what he signed up for; and, that’s what he says is fun for him.

Over the six postseason games thus far, the 30-year-old Campbell is putting up threes. He’s won three games and lost three games and has a 3.33 goals-against average. His save percentage in the playoffs is .893. 

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

Neither Campbell nor the whole team could overcome the five-on-three power play. As a result, the Maple Leafs were unable to keep the Stanley Cup champions from boarding another plane to Toronto. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Eventually, the Maple Leafs will successfully make it out of the first round of a Stanley Cup playoff series. The question is if it will be Saturday night, or will the team try again next season? Last night, I read the history of the team’s difficult postseasons. During the Core Four era, it was the eighth time in a row the team has not been able to close out a seven-game series. 

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This postseason, it’s not as if those core players are missing in action. Matthews has eight points in six games; both Marner and Nylander have seven; and, John Tavares has six. They’re all point-a-game players. 

My choice as a fan is to root for the team and hope Saturday night is the night.