Toronto Maple Leafs vs Tampa Bay Lightning
7:30 pm on HNIC, CBC, SN, TVAS, ESPN2, BSSUN
The series comes back to Toronto tied at two-all, and the Leafs are looking to go out in front again with a win.
Note, the draft lottery is scheduled for 6:30, and may be available over the air on your chosen channel for this game.
Assuming they stick with the lineup that worked last time, it should be something like:
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Brayden Point
Brandon Hagel- Nick Paul - Ross Colton
Patrick Maroon - Pierre-Édouard Bellemare - Corey Perry
Victor Hedman - Erik Cernak
Ryan McDonagh - Zach Bogosian
Mikhail Sergachev - Cal Foote
There is the possibility that Jan Rutta draws back in.
Sheldon Keefe mixed things up for the two games in Tampa, to mixed results (understatement of the year). Now he’s gone back to what I think is his preferred lineup. He has some obvious core values related to this team:
- Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner must play together unless one of them is on IR.
- John Tavares shouldn’t play with William Nylander, even though Nylander is an obvious top-six forward.
- William Nylander should play on the third line with some grindier linemates who also have the ability to play a rush game in supporting roles.
- Justin Holl is a safer option than Timothy Liljegren.
- Michael Bunting is the best option on the top line.
- Ondřej Kaše is not really up to the top nine.
- The top four defence pairs are set.
This gives us:
Michael Bunting - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Ilya Mikheyev - John Tavares - Alex Kerfoot
William Nylander - David Kämpf - Pierre Engvall
Jason Spezza - Colin Blackwell - Ondřej Kaše
Morgan Rielly - Ilya Lyubushkin
Jake Muzzin - T.J. Brodie
Mark Giordana - Justin Holl
All three top lines have to play at or above the level of the Lightning most of the time. That’s the formula to win a playoff game. You can talk endlessly about that third pair defenceman you saw make a mistake, or the goalies, or this or that forward and their “production” but at the end of the day, that’s just effects. Symptoms of the disease. The winning conditions are created long before anyone makes a mistake or a goalie makes a save.
Hockey is a five-on-five game, even in this bizarre playoffs with a whole new reffing system sprung on us all. The Matthews line spent the regular season as the second best line in the NHL at five-on-five. They have not spent the post season enjoying that success, but it’s not like the two-time Cup champs are an average NHL team, so expecting the amazing stats Sidney Crosby is putting up against the hapless Rangers is unrealistic. But all three lines have to bring their best game.
Win it at five-on-five, and you’ll win the game. Lose there, and you need luck or a goalie mismatch to get it for you.
Sheldon Keefe believes in this lineup structure. He thinks it’s going to beat the Lightning or anyone else who comes along later. He’s betting his future on it. He’s betting the playoffs on it. He’s betting your hopes on it.
Go Leafs Go