The Toronto Maple Leafs were favored in their first round match with the Montreal Canadiens in large part due to their high-powered offense led by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares, but through the first four games of the best-of-seven series, the Leafs lead 3-1 due mostly to the depth of their lineup, and their defense and goaltending keeping the Habs off the scoreboard.
Toronto has been able to have success in the series in spite of Matthews (who led the NHL with 41 goals this season) being held to one goal, Marner to three assists, and the loss of team captain Tavares to a concussion and knee injury in the first period of Game 1. William Nylander has stepped up to lead the club with four goals, Alex Kerfoot is tied for the club lead with five points filling in for Tavares, and veterans Jason Spezza (goals in Game 2 and 4) and Alex Galchenyuk (three points in Game 4) have provided significant contributions at key moments.
The Leafs have also been able to maintain a high level of performance even with Tavares and trade deadline acquisition Nick Foligno out, with Pierre Engvall, Galchenyuk, Adam Brooks, Riley Nash, and Travis Dermott filling in admirably.
“Scoring, defending, checking, all the way through the lineup the guys dug down here. These back-to-backs are tough.” Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe said after a 4-0 victory on Tuesday. “For our guys to dig in here today, and I thought a lot of guys were actually better today than yesterday even. It’s really good. A lot of great efforts all the way through.”
Montreal’s Carey Price has been spectacular at times in the series, but Toronto has been able to limit the Canadiens offense to just four goals in four games, with their forwards helping out down low in the defensive zone, the Leafs’ blueliners blocking shots and clearing the way for goalie Jack Campbell.
Campbell was 17-3-2 during the regular season but was an unknown commodity with his lack of playoff experience entering the post-season. After the loss in Game 1, Campbell has allowed only two goals on 84 shots in three straight victories and leads the NHL in goals against (1.01) and save percentage (.965).
“(Jack has) handled himself so well since arriving here and really, from everything if you had heard about him, that he handled himself very well in LA and had grown a lot there. I think if there’s anything that he’s grown into, it’s just the ability to manage the emotions and the different swings, positives, negatives, all those kinds of things when you’re playing more frequently.” Keefe said. “It’s been really good to see that and, of
course, he’s looking very confident here right now.”
If Toronto wins Game 5 at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday, they will advance to the second round for the first time since 2004 and face the Winnipeg Jets, who swept Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers earlier this week.