5 Maple Leafs on the bubble to dress in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs: The Countdown

Photo credit:© James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
2 months ago
With only eight games left in the regular season, much of the attention surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs at the moment is Stanley Cup Playoff focused. It appears Ilya Samsonov has solidified his spot as the Game 1 starter, a series that will be against either the Boston Bruins or Florida Panthers.
While several players are locks to see the ice in Game 1, some recent injuries have given a few Leafs on the bubble a chance to show their stuff. Let’s just say head coach Sheldon Keefe has a tough job searching for the best line combinations heading into the opening game of the first-round series.
Here are five Maple Leafs who are on the bubble to dress in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Ryan Reaves

It’s been a tale of two seasons for Reaves who looked slow, out of place and essentially a liability the first two months of the season and as of late, has completely turned things around, contributing nicely from the Leafs’ fourth line.
Reaves has been laying some monster hits, cycling well on the forecheck, and his line isn’t getting scored on every time he steps onto the ice, which of course, has been a nice change from what was going on early on this season. Reaves intimidation factor and willingness to stand up for his teammates shouldn’t be understated, and if the Leafs play the Bruins first round, it’s more likely Reaves will see some action.
Having Dewar join his line along with David Kampf down the middle appears to be a recipe for success for Reaves. He and Dewar played a lot together last season in Minnesota and you can see the two have a strong friendship off the ice and some budding chemistry on it.
The only problem for Reaves is the fact he doesn’t kill penalties and isn’t versatile enough to play down the middle, which would help his case for the Game 1 lineup. Unfortunately, he’s stuck in a numbers game and even though he might not see the ice on the road to open the playoffs, there’s certainly a chance Keefe could insert him for Game 3, and have him run around hitting everything that moves in front of the home crowd. Could be a good way to wake up the library, otherwise known as Scotiabank Arena.

Conor Timmins

With Timothy Liljegren expected to be out of the lineup for a few more weeks, Timmins has been given more ice time of late and has been performing better than expected. The right-handed d-man has recorded three assists in his last four games and has been given an extended look quarterbacking the Maple Leafs top power-play unit.
The sheer fact Timmins is right-handed gives him a leg up as ideally the blue line is balanced better when it comes to righties and lefties, but it’s become pretty obvious in Toronto over the years in the Keefe era, that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. Timmins isn’t necessarily tough to play against, he’s known for being offensive-minded, and sees the ice well, making the first pass look very easy at times. If he had more Ilya Lyubushkin in him, there’s no doubt he’d see more ice-time but that’s just not his game.
Timmins has battled Mono this season and missed extended time, and there’s no doubt that has set him back. He was basically Bobby Orr during the preseason and started to turn some heads in the organization as Timmins was someone who had a long history with Kyle Dubas, who brought in the blueliner from the Arizona Coyotes. The good news is the Maple Leafs have more depth than expected on the blue line, when there were major question marks at the beginning of the season. With Morgan Rielly and Joel Edmundson expected back before the playoffs, look for Timmins to be in a suit and tie Game 1 and likely the first ‘black ace’ called into action when need be.

Connor Dewar

Dewar’s transition to Toronto hasn’t exactly been seamless, but he’s handled himself well, carving out a role among the Maple Leafs fourth line and penalty kill. The only problem is Marner and Jarnkrok are both expected back before the playoffs start which could mean Keefe takes out the newcomer for at least the opening night of the postseason. He’s made an impact of late, scoring his first as a Leaf, however, you have to look past his two points in 11 games in Toronto to see where else he’s influencing the game. Dewar’s a defensive specialist, he’s usually on the right side of the puck, in perfect position to support and does have a bit of a nasty streak in his game which could translate well for the playoffs.
The fact he can slide over a play centre could give him a leg up on his internal competition, and the fact he’s helped the Maple Leafs turn around their PK of late makes Keefe’s decision even tougher. Toronto has killed off their last 15 times shorthanded and Dewar’s played a huge role in that. The PK needs to be sharp for the playoffs and will be vital for team success if Toronto wants to get out of the first round.
Dewar’s in a battle among six forwards for four spots within the Maple Leafs’ bottom six, and these last eight games it’s going to be interesting to watch the internal competition play out, and if the PK can stay perfect, Keefe’s going to have a hard time taking Dewar out of the lineup for Game 1.

Nick Robertson

There’s been a lot of attention on Robertson since the beginning of the season as the expectations have always been very high for the 2019 second-round pick. He shoots the puck better than the majority of the league, however being a one-dimensional offensive weapon isn’t necessarily helping out his case to see the ice in the postseason.
Recently Keefe has been throwing Robertson out on a newly formed ‘kid line’ with Pontus Holmberg and Matthew Knies and has been given the trio some tough assignments. Keefe’s admitted he’s trying to test the youngsters and get them comfortable with being out of their comfort zone on the ice:
Robertson’s scored three goals in his last five games and has 12 on the season. He’s becoming a reliable secondary scoring option and someone who can put the puck in the net at even strength, which is something the Leafs will need more of in the postseason when power plays are hard to come by. He is going to need to continue to produce these last eight games to force Keefe’s hand. With Jarnkrok coming back and expected to be inserted onto the third-line right-wing, where Robertson’s been playing of late, the 22-year-old winger is in a battle with Reaves and Dewar to see who gets the assignment on the fourth line, which could feature Knies sliding down alongside Kampf. I can’t remember the last time the Maple Leafs had this many depth forwards to consider and it’s a good problem to have.

Mark Giordano

Moving back to the blue line, if Keefe sticks with the conventional 12 forwards and six defensemen lineup, Giordano is going to be in tough to see the ice in Game 1. It all depends on Edmundson’s health and availability, as it does appear the newcomer has a leg up to crack the lineup over the 40-year-old veteran.
Giordano’s the oldest player in the league, which isn’t a knock – he knows how to keep himself ready for game action and he knows how to keep things simple when he’s called upon. With the resurgence of TJ Brodie after sitting out for a couple of games as a healthy scratch, he seems to be back into form, which means Giordano is likely out of luck to dress in Game 1. Rielly, Lyubushkin, Brodie, Benoit, McCabe and Edmundson will likely be the six to dress Game 1, with Liljegren a lock once he’s healthy and Benoit likely coming out.
Nevertheless, the Maple Leafs are a much deeper team than many expected this season. With Max Domi, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Bobby McMann breaking out there are some major decisions to make when it comes to how the lines are constructed. The same can be said on the blueline as Benoit is someone who would be tough to take out of the lineup and meanwhile, Brodie has found his game of late. The internal competition to end the regular season will be a storyline to watch as the Maple Leafs prepare for either the Bruins or the Panthers in Game 1.
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