Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Keefe, Campbell, Nylander & Muzzin

Last night the Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 7-3. Early this morning, my regular co-writer Stan Smith sent me a quick email to say that the loud THUMP you heard last night was the collective hearts of every Maple Leafs’ fan dropping. Whatever it was they were cooking last night had a familiar smell to it.  

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In Game 3, the Maple Leafs played exactly the type of game they needed to play to win this series; then, in Game 4, they played exactly the type of game that will win them nothing. Stan reminded me that all is not lost, however. Although two wins in the Tampa Bay area might have cemented the series, all the Maple Leafs needed to do was to split the two games to come home with the home-ice advantage. 

They did that. Now it’s a three-game series with two of those games at home for the Maple Leafs. We’ll find out what this team is made of on Tuesday night.  

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In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at the events of the game and what they might mean towards the team’s goal of winning this first-round series.

Item One: The Game Surprised Maple Leafs Head Coach Sheldon Keefe

Because I listen to Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe talk so much, I’ve sort of gained a sense of what he’s saying and what he’s not saying. I’m not always sure I read him correctly, but often I think I do. My call is that coach Keefe believed his team would win last night. He was surprised they didn’t play better.

Sheldon Keefe
Sheldon Keefe expected a better game last night
(Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

In his post-game media talk, he was pragmatic as ever when he noted the obvious, ”We came on the road here and got a split.” He then repeated my note above that, “in that sense,” it was “a successful road trip.”

The phrase “in that sense” caught my attention. It makes me think he expected more from his team. It made me think he expected his team to play better than they did. 

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However, he’s got to look around the NHL and see that a “Quick change” is possible. On the other side of the United States, the game after the Los Angeles Kings got annihilated by the Edmonton Oilers 8-2 in that series Game 3, the Kings came back behind Jack Campbell’s former mentor Jonathan Quick to shutout the Oilers 4-0. So all is far from lost.

Coach Keefe needed to and in fact saw the big picture when he shared, ”Whether you lose the game 2-1 or in the manner that we did it doesn’t matter. You wash it and move on. We’ll be better next time.” [My emphasis on Keefe’s note “in the manner that we did.”]

Item Two: Jack Campbell Needs to Be Better

It looks as if Lightning head coach Jon Cooper nailed it with his team. They can score on Maple Leafs’ goalie Jack Campbell. It started just a minute into the game and only ended when Campbell was replaced by backup goalie Erik Kallgren. Obviously, the Lightning players were happy enough to torch Campbell and then call it a game.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Over his Game 4 “experience,” Campbell gave up five goals on 16 shots. By contrast, Kallgren gave up zero goals on 10 shots. Campbell just didn’t have it on the night. He’s had two solid games out of four, which is why his team is tied in the series at two games each. There’s a pattern emerging.

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If the Maple Leafs are going to win the first round, Campbell simply has to be better. He knows it. As he noted after the game, “They scored on their first shot and took it to us. For me, I just look in the mirror and learn from what I did wrong.”

Item Three: Can William Nylander Be the Difference

In contrast to last postseason when William Nylander was arguably the best Maple Leafs’ forward, this postseason he’s been absent on the scoresheet. If there were some positives from Game 4 for the Maple Leafs – and there were – Nylander scoring two goals has to be chief among them. Although the goals were simply too little and too late to push his team into the game, Nylander’s emergence into the scoresheet might offer hope that he can show up in Game 5 on Tuesday night.

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

Nylander seems to be a streaky scorer and one can hope that he begins a hot streak this week. Obviously, he has to gain some confidence that he can score on Vasilevskiy more regularly. Nylander hadn’t registered a point during his first three games of the series. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The state of the series is that the Maple Leafs accomplished their goal of taking one game on the road and now have recovered their home-ice advantage. Still, I’m with coach Keefe. Game 4 was a letdown after the solid Game 3 win.

I have three thoughts about the game. Thought one, the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champs haven’t lost two playoff games in a row in almost three seasons. Last night was the 17th consecutive victory following a postseason loss since the beginning of their 2020 Stanley Cup run. That’s a good way to stay in the Stanley Cup hunt.

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Still, the Lightning can keep that record intact and still not make it to the next round. If both teams win their games at home, Toronto wins.

Thought two is that the first goal of each game has been the most important. That’s often the case in any game; but, in this series, it’s been a key. The team that scores first has won each game of the series. There’s not been a single lead change during the first four games.

Thought three, the team that hits the penalty box most often will lose this series. Last night, as Jake Muzzin noted, ”We got down early, it’s tough to come back. He added that his team took “too many penalties.” He was right.

Jake Muzzin Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Muzzin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Speaking of Jake Muzzin. He needs to shoot more often. He scored on his second shot from the point in this series. He’d scored only three goals during the entire regular season. Keep shooting, Jake!