It has been many moons since the Maple Leafs closed out a playoff series — 17 years’ worth of moons, to be exact.
They’ve had their chances since that first-round win over the Senators in 2004 (avert your eyes, Leafs fans): Game 7s in 2013, 2018 and 2019 and last year’s bubble Game 5. Now they have another chance to close out a series in a Game 5 as they host the Canadiens on Thursday night.
“We’ve played in those games before when it goes right down to the wire, last game of the series. Here tonight, I think we understand what’s at stake, the opportunity we have in front of us and what it’s going to take to get the job done,” said defenseman Morgan Rielly.
The Leafs will once again be without Nick Foligno, who has been out since suffering a lower-body injury in Toronto’s Game 2 win. They will also continue to miss captain John Tavares; however, he did skate before Thursday’s morning team session.
In their absence, Alexander Kerfoot has been elevated to the second line between Alex Galchenyuk and William Nylander. The trio has been producing; in the last two games, Kerfoot has four assists, Nylander has two goals and Galchenyuk has chipped in three points (goal, two assists).
Jack Campbell has been a steady presence between the pipes. He has posted an impressive .965 save percentage and a slim 1.01 goals-against average in the first four games of the series. He has outdueled 2015 Vezina and Hart Trophy winner Carey Price, who has a .920 save percentage in the series.
The Canadiens will need 2020 bubble Price in this one as they look to stave off elimination. In front of him, the team will need to produce more than it has. Over four games, Montreal has just four goals — Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Josh Anderson and Paul Byron. It has given up 12.
Erik Gustafsson has been slotted in to help boost the power play, which is 0 for 13. While that move makes some sense — Gustafsson has been known as a power-play specialist — many are left scratching their heads as to why young star Alexander Romanov has been shelved in this series.
For now, the Canadiens will have to rely on their veteran core, players like Corey Perry, Shea Weber, Eric Staal, Tyler Toffoli, Joel Edmundson and Brendan Gallagher, all of whom have played in more than 50 playoff games. Perry, Staal, Edmundson and Toffoli have all won Cups, too.
Sporting News has all the action as the Maple Leafs look to close out their first-round series against the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
(All times Eastern)
Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs score, highlights from 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs Game 5
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