Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning – Round One, Game 7 – Preview & Projected Lines

In many ways it feels like we are exactly where we should be. Killing the dragon would always amount to a Game 7.

The Leafs and their fan base are back in an all-too-familiar position after letting an elimination chance slip through their fingertips in Game 6, but the way they got here this time feels much better, and there’s something reassuring about it being the first on home ice since 2004. Only time will tell if it’ll be enough to end Game 7’s curse against an opponent of his caliber.

One of the biggest selling points that the Leafs can take from Thursday’s loss was their ability to control the puck and beat Tampa five-on-five from the start of the game in a clean run to draw in the game. the first frame, a rarity in a series marked by early penalties. Perhaps Game 6 was indicative of what was to come from the crew on duty in terms of their elimination games standard, but the Leafs should be prepared for any possibility after six games having had a little bit of everything. Notably, a 5v3 goal, a shorthanded goal, and a 4v4 goal put the Leafs in overtime in the first place in Game 6.

The other hope for the Leafs is that the return to home ice, with a mob that was the seventh man on the ice for the Leafs in their two SBA wins and Sheldon Keefe’s latest change, will allow the Leafs to ahead of the ballpark, where this heavily contested game – and series – will ultimately be decided.

The other encouraging sign was that the Matthews line managed to win the road game against the Cirelli-Point-Killorn line, scoring a goal against them to kick off the comeback and finishing with impressive control of the shots. .

With the home ice advantage and the final change in Game 7, the Engvall-Kampf-Mikheyev trio will take a wealth of defensive zone draws, while getting the Tavares and Matthews lines the most kicks to the can in the offensive zone and the odd exploiting mismatch where Keefe can find one.

Overall, the Leafs have been able to come out on top in the five-on-five battle so far, winning by goals (12-10) and xGoals/60 (2.52-2, 38). They’ve used special teams to their advantage at times in the series, but they’ve generally netted the negative in six games: The Leafs are 16% on the power play against the Lightning’s 23% and 77% on the PK to 84% of the Lightning.

A 2-1 lead in shorthanded goals closes the gap somewhat – not to mention a couple of 4v4 Leafs goals in Game 5, if you want to think of it as special teams – but a 5v5 game is generally preferred to the Buds, and avoiding early penalties against a TB powerplay who can score a timely offense with relentless efficiency will be critical tonight.

You could argue that it was a self-shooting case that cost the Leafs their chance to end this streak in six on Thursday: a blind miscommunication for a goal against out of nowhere, consecutive high-sticking fouls within 15 seconds of each other, a turnover leading to a shorthanded goal against. That said, it’s three games in a row now that the Leafs have fallen behind by multiple goals; as much as the Leafs have solved him fairly routinely in this series, with Andrei Vasilevskiy’s history of shutouts in elimination opportunities, that’s not the recipe they’ll be trying to replicate tonight.

Most stats are indicative of a series that will be decided by the narrowest margins, but we can usually throw the numbers away when it comes to a Game 7 too. Often the team that makes the fewest mistakes and gets a few bounces to go its way, walks away victorious.

From the other locker room, Toronto native Jon Cooper effectively captured what tonight represents for Leafs Nation and the hockey world in general:

The irony, right? Saturday night. Hockey night in Canada. In Toronto. You have the two-time champion. You have a team that is rich in tradition and extremely popular in this country. These moments just don’t happen very often.

I get myself out of the situation and it’s a must-see TV if you’re a hockey fan or any other sports fan.

Try to enjoy this, Leafs fans. We’ll see you on the other side.


Game Day Quotes

Jon Cooper on the benefits of his team’s experience with elimination options:

You learn from experience. Experience doesn’t win the game, but it certainly can help when times try. You can’t let that moment get too big for you. That’s a big message for the boys.

It’s hard to say it’s just another game because it’s people, but don’t let the moment consume you.

Cooper on the theatrical aspects of a Game 7:

The sun will still rise tomorrow regardless of the outcome. I’ve been on both sides of it. The phrase Jim McKay always used, “the thrill of victory and the pain of defeat.” It really is.

The sun will rise tomorrow, but you work so hard to put yourself in a situation. It’s extremely hard when you lose, but damn it’s exciting when you win.

Sheldon Keefe on his level of nervousness embarks on a new Game 7:

I don’t feel any nerves. Just excitement. This is as confident as I have coached this team.

The trust is earned, right? Part of that is that we were at the top of the league all season. We established home ice in a very tough division and beat this opponent for [it]†

Through this series, both teams have come to an agreement. Both teams punched the other a little on the butt, but both got back to their feet and carried on. We’ve been there with the back-to-back champions. Our boys have grown a lot of confidence in the knowledge that they belong right now.

Keefe on why his team’s confidence is high in Game 7:

It’s because of how we’ve played this series and how we’ve played against this opponent. Part of that is how we’ve played all season and responded to challenges. A lot of our confidence has grown in this series [as well]†

You don’t know how the outcome of the game will go. I think the opponent is just as confident as we are. But where are you? [most] is convinced that the players will be relaxed, that they will go out to battle and play with energy. That’s what I have faith in.

We’re going to give ourselves every chance to win the game.

Keefe on his team’s mental approach towards a new series of decisive game:

Many nerves are not nerves. It’s excitement. You want to go outside to play. You know what’s at stake. You know it’s a Game 7.

The mental approach should just be that you just start playing another game. It’s another game in this series. We played well in this series. We played well in this building.

We don’t have to make it bigger than it is. It’s big enough as it is, and we know it. That’s the reality. It’s unspoken. We’re trying to keep things focused on what we can do as a team and keep playing like we’ve done. That gives us a chance to win.

Keefe on why he chose to have a full morning skate today:

That’s what we’ve been doing throughout the series. We have a day off – a travel day. We just keep the same routine.

Keefe if he plans to make tactical changes tonight:

As for the plan, I would stick to the lesson. When it comes to a Game 7, both teams know each other very well. From that point of view there is not much else.

There are other areas that we have focused on that we need to outperform both defensively and offensively. I think both teams have generated a lot of speed in this series by crossing the neutral zone. The team that succeeds best in this has an advantage tonight.

Keefe on Austin Matthews’ growth:

He has established himself as an elite player in the league, as well as one who has been through a lot. Especially at this time of year he believes in himself and he believes in his ability to get out and play.

Keefe on the big impact the Toronto home crowd will have on tonight’s game:

All I can do is start from what we’ve been through so far in this series. For me it has without a doubt made a difference. I expect it to be the same here tonight.

It becomes an electric atmosphere. Of course we have to follow that with our game. Another source of confidence is that I know what our team is going to bring here today and I really believe in that because of what they’ve shown us in this series.

I know our fans are going to bring it tonight too. For all those reasons, let’s drop the puck and hit it.

Keefe on how the team will prepare for tonight’s service:

What is important is that our expectation is that they will take penalties. They’re going to call violations. We must be responsible with our sticks. We have to move our feet. We need to establish body positioning.

At the same time, we can’t get distracted and lose focus on what the game is or isn’t called. There are plenty of distractions and things happen out of our control as they are. We just have to stay focused on our play shift to shift and not give the umpires reason to give penalties.

Keefe on what he’s looking for from his team’s inception to the game:

I think I’m just going to get off to a good start, regardless of who scored the goals. We want to look comfortable while skating and be competitive.

We didn’t score the first goal last night, but I still loved the way we played and kept playing. It was the same to come in here. It goes without saying that scoring the first goal puts you in the game.


Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

forward
#56 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kampf – #65 Ilya Mikheyev
#25 Ondrej Kase – #11 Colin Blackwell – #19 Jason Spezza

defenders
#44 Morgan Rielly – #46 Ilya Lyubushkin
#8 Jake Muzzin – #78 TJ Brodie
#55 Mark Giordano – #3 Justin Holl

goalkeepers
Appetizer: #36 Jack Campbell
#50 Erik Källgren

Healthy Scratches: Wayne Simmonds, Timothy Liljegren, Nick Abruzzese, Kyle Clifford, Rasmus Sandin
Injured: Petr Mrazek


Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines

forward
#18 Ondrej Palat – #91 Steven Stamkos – #86 Nikita Kucherov
#17 Alex Killorn – #21 Brayden Point – #71 Anthony Cirelli
#38 Brandon Hagel – #79 Ross Colton – #20 Nick Paul
#14 Patrick Maroon – #41 Pierre-Edouard Bellmare – #10 Corey Perry

defenders
#77 Victor Hedman – #81 Erik Cernak
#27 Ryan McDonagh – #24 Zach Bogosian
#98 Mikhail Sergachev – #52 Cal Foote

goalkeepers
Appetizer: #88 Andrei Vasilevskiy
#1 Brian Elliot

Healthy Scratches: Riley Nash, Jan Rutta
Injured: No

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