The Toronto Maple Leafs are relaxed heading into Game 5
Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
By Steven Ellis25 days ago
It’s just another ordinary game day at Scotiabank Arena. It has to be if the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t want it to be the last game day of the season.
Toronto finds themselves back home for Game 5 with the Florida Panthers in a position to clinch. The Leafs are 1-3 at home during the playoffs, including Game 1 and 2 against Florida. There’s absolutely no room for error moving forward: it has to be a perfect effort tonight, Sunday and Tuesday if the boys in blue are going to keep things rolling.
The team knows it. But they’re not going into today thinking any differently: it’s still business as usual, just with higher stakes.
“I think the real key for any of our players, no matter what they’re going through, is to focus on their game shift to shift and the little habits,” coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters on Friday morning. “We’re overdue to have a real solid 60-minute effort here on home ice.”
Toronto played its best game of the series on Wednesday, narrowly avoiding elimination on the road. But getting a complete effort has been extremely difficult for the club, where own-zone mistakes have been a big issue. A 45-second blunder-filled start to the second period in Game 2 helped change the course of the series, with the Leafs fanbase in Toronto remaining quiet the rest of the night.
Don’t expect that on Friday with everything on the line. And the players are in a good headspace to get going.
“We’ve talked about what we need to do. So I think the mood is a pretty good one right now,” forward Michael Bunting said.
The playoffs can be full of momentum swings, and that’s what the Leafs are hoping for. Only four teams have erased a 3-0 series deficit to win, so the odds are not in Toronto’s favor.
“Our home ice record hasn’t been what it needs to be, so it’s up to us to put forth a better effort,” Luke Schenn said.
The Leafs will go back to Joseph Woll in Game 5 after his excellent effort two nights ago. Ilya Samsonov and Matthew Knies remain out, but both did skate for the first time on Friday after suffering their respective injuries. The Leafs will have to stay strong defensively and build upon an excellent own-zone effort in Game 4, especially with an inexperienced netminder between the pipes.
The good news? The team has total faith in the 24-year-old.
“One thing I’ve noticed is he doesn’t get phased by things,” Bunting said. “He’s just calm and collected.”
That’s exactly what the rest of the team needs to be tonight: relaxed. And the general feel at morning skate was nonchalant. The players were having fun. Smiles all around. They can’t be uptight in a game with implications as big as this. When you’re relaxed, you think better. They’re the underdogs right now, with nothing to lose. The Leafs know how to dig themselves out of holes, and they definitely know how to win games. And that’s why they’re so calm ahead of their most important game of the season.
Ryan O’Reilly’s mom said it best: “Kick some ass.”
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