5 Leafs takes heading into Game 5

Photo credit:Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
11 months ago
It’s Do or Die 2: Do Harder. Pretty much every single storyline from Game 4 still applies to Game 5 and goals from Mitch Marner and William Nylander still doesn’t change anything about how the Leafs will be living and dying by what their top four forwards can do tonight. Like with most sequels there are some small changes that will make things interesting. This game is at home. It’s now about going back to Woll and not throwing him an elimination game. And with Samsonov and Knies participating in practice, there is now some hope that further reinforcements are on the way if they get through this game. In the spirit of those small changes, here are five takes for Game 5.
  1. I completely get the desire to run back the lineup that won in Game Four, but I firmly believe that Erik Gustafsson should be in the Leafs lineup every night.Gustafsson has been a considerable upgrade for the second powerplay unit and in his brief appearances lacked the disappointing moments that we’ve seen from Giordano, Holl, and Liljegren. The Florida forwards aren’t so imposing that the Leafs need to go the bruiser blueline route they went with Tampa and it’s odd they haven’t adapted more for their opponent. Gustafsson seems like the best option and even if they don’t have a set partner for him he’s more valuable as a 7th D than what the Leafs would add as a 12th forward.
  2. The Leafs should wear white tonight to trick Sheldon Keefe into thinking he is coaching a road game.When the Leafs have gone with their road, “damned for what they are” approach and set the pace for the game rather than attempting to engage in ridiculous last change strategies, Toronto has been the better team. Or at least had better results. They’ve had 4 overtimes (3 which resulted in wins) and one regulation win out of 5 games on the road. In contrast, they have a 1-4 record at home. Given that this is the most significant change between the two situations, I’m comfortable hanging it on that.
  3. It’s Joseph Woll’s net for the rest of this series.As I mentioned above, Samsonov could be ready for Game 6, but given that Woll was already a big part of getting the Leafs to Game 5, he’d earn the same credit for the next game as well.
    In the unlikely event of a next round, I think you open it up to the debate you are excited to have about who should start Game 1.
    The fact that Woll hasn’t given any reason to not trust him when he’s been called upon in the playoffs or the regular season has really made for an interesting goaltending situation next year. Toronto could very well run back Samsonov and Woll and just make sure they have a potential workhorse option on the Marlies. And given that Samsonov is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent, Toronto could just go with another year of him to make sure he can put up similar results two years in a row. No matter what happens tonight, there are reasons to be positive about the Leafs goaltending situation going forward both from a quality and cap perspective.
  4. I am begging Sheldon Keefe to convince himself that he only has three lines. There is no tomorrow if things go wrong, so play the hell out of your top players. There is no excuse for not having the best of the best all above 20 minutes of ice time tonight unless the Leafs established the victory so early in the game that they rest them in the third.
  5. This is not the “Last Dance” (at least for the core of the team.)I honestly believe that we are witnessing the judgment days for Sheldon Keefe right now, especially if Kyle Dubas moves on from the Leafs this summer. So in a sense, I guess it could be the last dance for the front office. On the ice, this seems like it could be the end of the Kerfoot and Holl era, but we’ve believed we were in that before as well. Matt Murray getting healthy was a bit of a blessing because now the Leafs can buy him out, but there can still be some debate on whether or not that happens too. For others like O’Reilly, Kampf, Acciari, Schenn, Bunting, and Aston-Reese this could be it, but I’m sure most can find a couple of names in there they are passionate about bringing back as well, and in an underwhelming free agency year they wouldn’t be wrong to want some semblance of “running it back.”
    When it comes to the Core Four, save for contract negotiations going sideways with Matthews or Nylander, there is no reason to blow it up either, and looking at the salary cap situations for teams like Tampa and Boston, next season really does seem primed to be a good situation for the Leafs in the Atlantic (of course the last two times we said this the Panthers and then the Bruins won the President’s Trophy.)
    On paper there is always some reason to be optimistic about the Leafs and without knowing how things are going to go tonight, let me be the first to say “There’s always next year.”

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