Will Auston Matthews play the Maple Leafs’ final game of the season? He might not have a choice

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
10 days ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs went into Tuesday night’s game against the Florida Panthers with the spotlight focusing on two things – their own destiny, and of course, Auston Matthews’ pursuit of 70 goals.
Unfortunately for the team, neither of these things panned out the way they hoped it would. After coming out guns blazing in the first period, leading the Panthers 2-0 and outshooting them 14-6 after 20 minutes, the script completely flipped in the second. The Leafs conceded the next four goals to Florida and were outshot 31-4, yes, 31 shots in a single period. That’s top-5 all-time in most shots allowed in a single period if you were wondering. Matthews had five shots on goal and came inches away from scoring his 70th more than once, but the Panthers held strong and did just enough to keep his efforts on the right side of the goal line, and did more than enough to take the game with a 5-2 win. In the process, they also ensured a first-round matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning, leaving the Maple Leafs to face an old demon of theirs in the Boston Bruins.
So, therein lies the question – with the Maple Leafs staring down the barrel of their final game of the season against the Tampa Bay Lightning, do they let Matthews have one last crack at scoring 70 goals? Or do they rest him in order to keep him healthy for Game 1? Simply put, with Max Domi and Bobby McMann both unavailable for the final two games of the season, it might not be their call to make. As you can probably guess, head coach Sheldon Keefe was asked about this following Tuesday night’s game and kept his answer blunt.
“We’ll talk about it. We’ll have 12 healthy forwards.”
He was also asked if he coached in a specific way last night to try and get Matthews his 70th goal, specifically when he pulled the goalie down by three goals with four minutes left.
“That’s less about Auston and more about the fact that we had the chance to work on our 6-on-5, get some reps there, and some 6-on-4 against a really good team, I think you take advantage of those opportunities, especially against a team like that really challenges you. So, yeah, Auston plays a role in that, but that, for me, is more about getting us some reps in the very important part of the game here, with playoffs approaching.”
As of right now, any Leaf forward who wasn’t regularly playing before is dressing now. Noah Gregor scored his first goal in 31 games after getting back into the lineup following a flurry of scratches, and as long as McMann and Domi are hurt, it looks like he’ll continue to skate with the main group. The same thing goes for Nick Robertson, whose roster spot was in jeopardy before McMann’s injury. Unless the Leafs pull off some funky cap magic in order to call somebody up for tonight’s game, it seems pretty safe to assume that Matthews will get one last crack at scoring 70 goals before the season is over. On defence, it wouldn’t shock me to see any combination (or maybe all three) of Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Conor Timmins to get into the lineup on the second half of the back-to-back, but up front, it seems like things will be unchanged.
The Maple Leafs will visit the Lightning to close out the regular season tonight at 7:00pm eastern.

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