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Leafs prepare for possibility Matthews misses Game 5

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews - The Canadian Press

The Maple Leafs practised at Ford Performance Centre in Toronto on Monday before flying to Boston. 

Auston Matthews (illness) missed practice and may miss Game 5. 

"Status is yet to be determined for tomorrow," said coach Sheldon Keefe

When Matthews missed practice on Friday the team simply had healthy scratch Connor Dewar serve as a placeholder in the centre spot on the top line. That was not the case on Monday. Max Domi took Matthews' spot on a line with Tyler Bertuzzi and Mitch Marner. Domi also took Matthews' position on the top power-play unit.

Matthews did travel with the team to Boston where the Leafs will face elimination on Tuesday night. 

"Of course, we're hopeful that he's available and feeling good and back to himself," Keefe said. "So that's what we're hopeful for."

Matthews led the Leafs to their only win in the series with a three-point effort in Game 2 last Monday at TD Garden. It was shortly after that brilliant performance that the 26-year-old started feeling sick. He missed Wednesday's morning skate and was held without a point in Game 3 that night. 

Matthews was pulled from Game 4 by the team doctor following the second period on Saturday. 

"I mean, it's not ideal to be without Auston Matthews," said centre John Tavares, who has one goal in the series. "You're obviously talking about one of the best players in the world. But there's tremendous depth, talent and character on this team. It's a great opportunity for all of us to step up, raise our game, which is already needed and necessary."

Matthews scored 69 goals in the regular season to capture his third career Rocket Richard Trophy. 

"Throughout the year guys have been out of the lineup and we rallied together as a team during those times," said winger William Nylander, who was held off the scoresheet in his series debut on Saturday. "So, if that's the case, that's what we'll have to do." 

Nylander and Tavares practised on the second line with rookie Matthew Knies. Nick Robertson moved back to the third line with Pontus Holmberg and Calle Jarnkrok. Dewar reunited with David Kampf and Ryan Reaves on the fourth line. 

ContentId(1.2113025): Matthews misses practice as Game 5 status remains uncertain


Domi also replaced Matthews on the top line in the third period on Saturday. 

"He's played centre for us a lot this season," noted Keefe. "He's done well with Mitch. He has done well when we have had guys out. Whether it is Auston or John, Max played in that spot and did a nice job for us. He's a very versatile guy who can do different things and has the ability to play different positions with different types of players. It was an easy decision the other night to slide him over there."

Matthews missed just one game in the regular season and the Leafs responded with a 7-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 16. Domi had a goal and two assists in that game while playing alongside former junior teammate Marner. 

What's the key for Domi if he plays on the top line? 

"We'll keep all that stuff in house," he said. "But we're going to need everyone tomorrow."

Domi already had his game face on during his meeting with the media on Monday. He kept his answers brief during an 11-question session that lasted just over two minutes. Domi didn't want to look ahead or relive the past. 

"Great practice today," he stressed. 

The message from Keefe? 

"Like I said, we had a really good practice today," Domi reiterated. "Looking forward to the flight today with the boys and big test tomorrow against a good team in Boston."

What did he like about practice? 

"It was great," the 29-year-old said. "Boys were super positive, super jumpy and a hungry group. It was a great 45 minute little shift out there and boys are feeling good."

The Leafs have only scored seven goals through four games in the series. 

"I mean, if you watched today we scored quite a bit so guys looked good out there," Domi retorted. "Some good goaltenders over there and good defence core and good team, so got to keep it simple and just get to the dirty areas and really simplify our game and should work out good." 

ContentId(1.2113021): Tight-lipped Domi liked the look of Leafs at practice


Domi felt comfortable with the top power-play unit at practice. 

"Snapping it around pretty good and looking forward to it tomorrow," he said. "It's obviously a group that's been together for a while, so whenever put into a spot like that whether it's a practice or a game, you're expected to execute at a high level and I thought we did that today."

But the Leafs power play has not executed at a high level for much of the series. Toronto is 1/14 on the man advantage and looked out of sorts on Saturday. 

Domi, Tavares, Nylander, Marner and Morgan Rielly hit the ice before Monday's main practice to do some work with assistant coach Guy Boucher, who oversees the power play. 

Marner chirped your humble correspondent, who had his phone out and was poised to record the reps. 

"No videotaping," Marner shouted with a smile. "You'll share our secrets."

Nylander was willing to shed some light on the planned adjustments after practice. 

"Making the puck move faster and getting shots from different areas of the ice," Nylander said. "The focus is [to] get the puck to the net and then get the rebounds and get those in."

Marner, who often plays down low or on the flank, ended up taking significant reps in the bumper spot in the middle of the ice. 

The top unit also worked on retrieving pucks along the boards. Their one power-play goal from Tavares in Game 2 came off a broken play when Matthews held the zone and passed the puck to the slot. 

"We gotta be hungry," Tavares stressed. "Just the way we work for pucks, work for opportunities. They're obviously challenging us with the way they're closing time and space and not much has been clean." 

Domi's vision and quickness may give the Bruins something different to think about. 

"Max is a tremendous passer," Tavares noted. "His speed, as well, getting to holes and doing things with that. And recovering pucks when you have to win battles and break pressure and all that, I think his speed can help in that area too."

ContentId(1.2113030): Domi works with top unit as Leafs seek PP breakthrough


It was right at the end of his media session that a reporter started asking Tavares about the potential excuses in this series for the Leafs. After all, Nylander missed the first three games due to an undisclosed issue while Matthews is now dealing with an illness. Bobby McMann (lower body) has missed the entire series.  

Tavares cut off the question. 

"We're focused on tomorrow," he said. "We're focused on tomorrow. That's where our minds [are] at. We just have to come out and bring our best tomorrow."

It was a rare short response from the 33-year-old. Earlier in the scrum, Tavares was asked about his leadership style at a time like this. 

"I don't know if you want to change a whole lot," he said. "But you recognize the scenario."

The Leafs season is on the line on Tuesday. 

"I don't think you need to go out there and try to do everything," Tavares said. "It can get easy to get caught up in that, but you want to go out there and execute at a high level and just play at a very high standard, be very, very competitive. Continuing just to draw us in the fight, and to continue to stay with our game and believing in one another." 

ContentId(1.2113098): Tavares cuts off question about potential excuses for Leafs


Tavares has yet to produce a point in 5-on-5 play in the series while being matched up consistently against the David Pastrnak line. 

"Obviously we know how dangerous he is offensively," Tavares said. "You're not trying to be overaggressive or high risk."

Tavares has only landed six shots on net in 5-on-5 play. 

"I felt like last game they got a lot of sticks, a lot of bodies on pucks, and nothing was clean, even when you found ways to get into some good spots," Tavares said. "We couldn't find ways to get second opportunities so [it's about] playing through that."  

Pastrnak is also struggling to produce with just two goals and one assist (on an empty-net goal) in the series. 

"Am I happy with my individual game? I'm not there yet," Pastrnak admitted. "But we are playing good hockey and just finding every possible way to help the team win."

Pastrnak only as five shots on net in 5-on-5 play. How's he keeping frustration at bay? 

"It's very simple, other guys stepping up," Pastrnak said. "We're getting the production from other players, which makes it way easier."

Bruins winger Brad Marchand leads the series with eight points. 

"He's our captain and he definitely lead us the right way the last two games," Pastrnak said. "It's easy to follow when your captain is doing that." 

ContentId(1.2112995): The Talking Point: What response do you expect after Leafs' Game 4 disaster?


On Sunday, Keefe said Nylander "looked like a guy that's definitely adjusting to the series" in Game 4. 

The coach felt Nylander would be better on Tuesday. Where does the 27-year-old see room for growth in his game? 

"I felt pretty good last game," Nylander responded quickly. "I don't know, really. Power play is one aspect where we can all do better."

Nylander led the Leafs with 35 power-play points in the regular season. 

After losing the first three games to the Florida Panthers in the second round last year, Nylander described facing elimination as a fun experience. 

"I think that's when you got to play your best," he explained. 

So, what does Nylander make of Toronto's current predicament? 

"Stuff like this happens and teams battle back," he said. "We're not focusing about the big picture."

ContentId(1.2112995): The Talking Point: What response do you expect after Leafs' Game 4 disaster?


Ilya Samsonov was pulled after allowing three goals on 17 shots on Saturday. 

"They come to me after second and said, 'We want to change something,'" Samsonov said. "It's bad to be goalie because it's first thing you want to change. But I'm not 15-years-old, yeah. I need to understand. You guys see, I'm working hard coming back today."

Keefe refused to name his Game 5 goalie, but the coach strongly hinted that Joseph Woll will get his first start of the series. 

"There's areas we need to get better in for sure," Keefe said. "Getting more saves at critical times is a big part of that. They're obviously getting lots at the other end."

Jeremy Swayman is 3-0 in the series with a .956 save percentage, which is tops among all Stanley Cup playoff starters. Samsonov is 1-3 with an .883 save percentage. 

"If I not play, I will continue to support every guy in this locker room," Samsonov promised. "I prepare like I will play next game. Yeah, this my mental [approach] right now. I don't want to lose my mental spot."

Five of the 12 goals allowed by Samsonov came via the Boston power play. 

"Special teams and goaltending are two areas that we have to be better in," said Keefe. "They are connected in lots of ways. They've had the edge in those areas in the series and that's tough to overcome. Coming out of Game 4, it was very evident that they had the edge in those areas. We have to take steps there."

Woll did not stay out late at practice, which the back-up goalie tends to do. Last year, he made his first career playoff start in Game 4 against Florida when the Leafs faced elimination. Woll stopped 24 of 25 shots to earn a win that night. 

"He managed it well," Keefe recalled. "It didn't seem to be too big a moment for him. Just like the other night, he went in and was just calm and did a good job for us."

Woll stopped all five shots he faced in the third period on Saturday. The Boston College product did not speak with the media on Monday. Following his last start of the regular season on April 16 in Florida, Woll was asked about the playoff matchup with Boston. 

"They play a playoff game year round," Woll noted. "They're a hard team to play against and they have some big bodies."

Woll lost all three games he played against the Bruins in the regular season.  

"Need to get stronger everywhere, in offensive zone, neutral zone, D-zone, goalies, forwards, defencemen, everywhere," Samsonov said. "We still have a chance to come back. It's not over yet and we want to show people we still alive. We want to fight."

ContentId(1.2112995): The Talking Point: What response do you expect after Leafs' Game 4 disaster?


Lines at Monday's Leafs practice: 

Bertuzzi - Domi - Marner 
Knies - Tavares - Nylander 
Robertson - Holmberg - Jarnkrok 
Dewar - Kampf - Reaves 

Rielly - Lyubushkin 
Benoit - McCabe 
Edmundson - Liljegren 
Giordano - Brodie 
Webber - Timmins 


Power play units at Monday's Leafs practice: 

QB: Rielly 

Flanks: Domi, Nylander 

Bumper: Marner

Net front: Tavares 

QB: McCabe 

Flanks: Liljegren, Robertson 

Bumper: Jarnkrok 

Net front: Bertuzzi