BRANDON, Fla. — Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe will keep Alex Kerfoot on the first line alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner when their first-round playoff series with the Tampa Bay Lightning resumes on Sunday.
The Lightning used the line of Alex Killorn, Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli against Michael Bunting, Matthews and Marner and were effective through two periods of play and limited Toronto’s top line to no scoring chances or shot attempts through 40 minutes.
That prompted Keefe to swap Kerfoot back onto the top line to begin the third period of their 5-2 win against the Lightning in Game 3, while moving Bunting further down the lineup.
“I thought that line had a hard time last night,” Keefe said. “It’s coming back from an injury and you’re also coming in playing in the playoffs for the first time, especially when you’re going to play on that line, it’s not easy minutes.”
Bunting missed the first game of the series with an undisclosed injury and returned for Game 2 and scored his first postseason goal. With his top line needing help, Keefe went to Kerfoot shortly after he made a mistake while on the penalty kill that led to Tampa’s first goal of the game in Game 3.
“He made a bit of mistake there in the second period on the penalty kill and that doesn’t change who he is,” Keefe said. “We give him an opportunity to move up in the lineup after that and do a good job and it seems like whatever line he’s on he improves.”
The Leafs scored goals from the unlikeliest of sources on Friday.
Colin Blackwell recorded his first goal of the playoffs after defenceman Ilya Lyubushkin showed patience on a 3-on-1 scoring opportunity. David Kampf scored the game-winning goal on an unassisted play.
One line that didn’t generate any scoring was the team’s new second line that saw John Tavares and William Nylander reunited once again.
“We had a few chances last game and a lot of power plays and through the second half of the game I think we were just trying to not get scored on,” Nylander said. “Obviously we got scored on in the third period and it was just a battle to not give up anymore dangerous changes.
Nylander and Kerfoot were the top-two offensive performers for the Leafs during the 2021 playoff. While Kerfoot has scored a goal, Nylander does not have a point. His linemate, John Tavares, has just one assist.
But the Leafs hold a 2-1 series lead and so long as they are in the drivers’ seat, that seems to be the focus.
“As long as the team is winning, it doesn’t matter what’s going on out there for you individually,” Nylander said. “You just have to go out there and win the game. That’s what’s most important.”
Based on the line rushes at practice, it appears the Leafs will not make any other changes to their lineup.
Campbell the talker
Jack Campbell is rolling in his second playoffs with the Maple Leafs. He’s got a .924 save percentage through three games played and it appears he’s regularly spreading the positive vibes with his teammate.
The 30-year-old is constantly talking on the ice during the game and the chatter is appreciated by his teammates.
“I don’t think I’ve played with a goalie who talks as much as him,” Nylander said of Campbell.
As far as what the goaltender said.
”It’s whatever, it can be anything,” Nylander added. “‘You’re looking great’ or whatever or stuff like that. Just being positive to the guys which is fun to hear.
The goaltending battle in this series has intensified with Toronto scoring 11 goals through three games against Tampa goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Campbell outplayed his counterpart to help Toronto hang on to win Game 3.
But Lightning head coach Jon Cooper isn’t concerned about Campbell’s specific performance.
“We’ve scored seven goals on him in the last two games so if he’s going to sit here and have a 3.50 GAA in every two-game set, we’ll take that,” Cooper said of Campbell. “Has he made some saves? Sure he has. Have we beat him, we have.
“There’s always a misnomer out there that it’s about how many goals you score, it’s the amount you prevent. And that’s where we have to be looking. Goal scoring against these guys, that’s not a worry to me.”
Game 4 goes Sunday at Amalie Arena. Dating back to the 2020 NHL Playoffs, the Lightning are 15-0 coming off a loss in the previous game.
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