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Maple Leafs will need to end home playoff woes to stay alive against Bruins

Sheldon Keefe Toronto Maple Leafs Sheldon Keefe - The Canadian Press
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Sheldon Keefe was asked what it means to be playing the next game back home in front of supportive fans. 

"Quite honestly it means nothing," the Leafs coach said bluntly. "We got to play the exact same way wherever it is. I mean we're happy to ... play in front of them, but we have to approach the game no different than we have on the road in terms of our plan and what's required. We don't have to impress anyone. We don't have to do this or that, we need to win the hockey game."

The Leafs lost both home games in the series and have dropped six straight playoff games at Scotiabank Arena dating back to last year. They've lost seven of eight at home in the playoffs the last two years. 

"It gives us another chance to get it right on home ice," defenceman Jake McCabe noted after Tuesday's win at TD Garden. 

The road map to success has been established on the road. 

"We've got to play quick," stressed Keefe. "We've got to be direct. We've got to be fast and we have been on the road. We've got good results in Game 2 and 5 as a result."

Game 4 was a different story. The Leafs fell behind 3-0 and got booed off the ice at the end of the second period. 

"You can't blame them," captain John Tavares noted after the demoralizing defeat on Saturday. 

The Leafs also performed better on the road (.659 points percentage, fourth overall) than at home (.585 points percentage, 19th overall) during the regular season. 

"Our process was not what it needs to be," Keefe said of the playoff home games. "Some of the questions I got after Game 4 were about effort. To me it wasn't about effort. The effort is there. It's the process. All of a sudden now you look slower. All of a sudden you're not spending as much time on the forecheck. You're not in the offensive zone. So it doesn't look the same because the pace of play is down." 

The Bruins have also struggled at home where they are 2-5 in the last two playoffs under coach Jim Montgomery.

"When you're on the road in the playoffs, you spend all your time together," Montgomery told reporters. "It's so much easier to eliminate outside noise when you're on the road."

Toronto is a noisy market at the best of times. 

The Leafs are 5-14 at home in the playoffs since Keefe took over as coach in the 2019-20 season. The team actually had players stay in a Toronto hotel before Game 5 against the Florida Panthers last year in an attempt to mimic road life, but even that drastic measure didn't change the result. 

"We just have to accept and recognize there's only one way for us to win and play in the playoffs and that's how we played last night," Keefe said. "The games that we played in Boston, Games 1 and 2, were good examples of how we need to play. I thought it was more complete from start to finish in the game last night, but I've liked our games on the road."

"We just got to keep everything simple," said defenceman Simon Benoit. "Keep the same mindset. We did well last night. We're in the exact same position tomorrow, so just same thing." 

The Bruins are drawing confidence from how they've played in Toronto. 

"We played two really good games there," Montgomery said. "There's a little bit of the mentality of we have to bring our own juice and we have to rely on each other. It's kind of like a 'Band of Brothers' mentality, which I think is something I think our team thrives on." 

The Leafs have been eliminated on home ice five times in the last seven seasons. The only times they've been eliminated on the road in this era? In Boston in 2018 and 2019. 

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Is Auston Matthews a possibility to play in Game 6? 

"He skated today," Keefe said. "No update otherwise."

Matthews skated briefly on Tuesday morning in Boston before missing Game 5. He was on the ice longer on Wednesday, around 30 minutes, and exerted himself more with additional skating and shooting drills. 

Matthews played through an illness in Game 3. He was pulled from Game 4 by team doctors after the second period. TSN Hockey Insider Chris Johnston reports the 69-goal centre is also dealing with an injury issue. 

"He's the best player in the world," said Max Domi, who filled in as the top-line centre in Game 5. "When he comes back it's gonna be a boost for our lineup. The boys weren't going to let that one slide, we wanted to give him the chance to get back in the lineup and we did that."

Domi went 12-2 at the dot on Tuesday and one of those faceoff wins led directly to McCabe's game-opening goal. Domi credited wingers Mitch Marner and Tyler Bertuzzi.

"Mitchy and Bert were jumping pretty hard," he said. "And, obviously, sometimes you just gotta compete and want the puck more than the other guy."

Domi leads the Leafs with four points, all in 5-on-5 play, in the playoffs. 

"I think he really enjoys and thrives this time of year," said Tavares. "I really feel over the last two or three months he's really become a big fabric of the team on and off the ice and really has kind of found how he impacts things in many different areas ... I don't think he's trying to replicate being Auston. I think no one can, he's a generational talent. So, everyone is just stepping up a little bit and I thought Max really did that with just playing his game at a really high level."

Shot attempts favoured the Leafs 23-12 when the Domi line was on the ice in 5-on-5 play, per NaturalStatTrick.com. 

"As much as we have guys with a lot of skill — and Max is certainly one of them — who can make plays through the neutral zone, our game ... has to begin with the forecheck, begin with work, and begin with competing," noted Keefe. "That is the playoffs. That is what this series certainly demands. That line did that extremely well. They really, really worked. Because of that, they got some favourable pucks. They got pucks back, were able to attack the net, and spent lots of time on offence. They were tremendous. Credit to Max for stepping up."

ContentId(1.2113995): Domi steps up to buy Matthews time to get back in Leafs lineup

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The Bruins are trying to avoid blowing a 3-1 series lead for the second straight season. 

"We planted that seed," declared Leafs winger Ryan Reaves in the Leafs dressing room after the Game 5 win. "Let's go back home and water that."

For Boston fans, this series is starting to feel all too familiar. Just like last year, the Bruins lost at home in overtime in Game 5. Just like last year, Brad Marchand had a glorious chance in the third period to seal the series. Just like last year, the opposition changed goalies and got a boost. Just like last year, Montgomery is having his lineup decisions questioned. 

Coming into the game, Montgomery had said the start would show him how much his group had learned from last year's collapse. Boston started slow and got outshot 12-2 in the opening 20 minutes. 

"I don't think we did a good enough job staying in the moment last night," Montgomery admitted to reporters in Boston.

The Leafs feel like the pressure dynamic has now changed a bit in the series even though they are still the ones facing elimination. 

"That is what you want to do," said Keefe. "You want to build positive momentum your own way. You want to make them uncomfortable."

The Leafs core can relate, of course, having squandered a 3-1 lead in a loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the 2021 playoffs. 

"The more opportunities you have and you don't close on it, obviously, then you get a little bit tighter," Tavares recalled.

Montgomery is hoping the disappointment of Tuesday night will fuel his team. It certainly has the coach fired up.  

"I'm still pissed off from last night, to be honest," Montgomery said. "I don't understand or accept our play from last night … So I'm gonna be pissed off until puck drop tomorrow night."

"We can expect them to come out better than they did last night," said winger Calle Jarnkrok. "It's only getting harder to win each game that goes by."

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Boston College product Joseph Woll stopped 27 of 28 shots to earn the win in his first start of the series. 

"I'm having the time of my life out there," the 25-year-old said with a big smile. "It's a place I've played a lot of big games and to come in here and play the Bruins in an elimination game is pretty special. I thought from the drop of the puck, our team just had a different level of urgency and made me confident back there."

Woll has been in this spot before. He won his first Stanley Cup playoff start in Game 4 against Florida last year to help keep the Leafs alive. 

"That experience last year definitely helped," Woll said. "I felt more comfortable coming into the situation." 

It was Woll's first start since April 16 and first win since April 9. 

"Status quo from Woller," said McCabe. "He's cool, calm and collected back there, making big saves for us, giving us a chance all night as expected."

"He was fantastic," said Tavares. "He just looked really calm, really under control. He was seeing it really well, tracking it."

Woll saved his best for last with a flurry of stops early in overtime. 

"That's a big game for him last night to go in and show that confidence," Keefe said. "Obviously we're going to need him to continue with that. Our team's going to have to continue to do a job in front of him. Those things have got to be connected."

Woll started the season strong and actually took over the No. 1 job from Ilya Samsonov before sustaining a high ankle sprain on Dec. 7. He didn't return until Feb. 29 and struggled to regain his rhythm down the stretch. 

Early in the season, Domi compared Woll's ability to stay composed to that of his former Canadiens teammate Carey Price.

"He's unbelievable," Domi said. "He's been sitting around for a while, so shows how mature he is and obviously the presence that he brings when he steps in between the pipes."

ContentId(1.2113989): Leafs' Woll calls elimination game start in Boston 'time of my life'

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Woll made the key saves. Matthew Knies scored the key goal. 

"You black out a little bit," the rookie winger said after scoring in overtime. "I was just so excited and so happy. I think what brought me more joy was to see the faces of my teammates and you know how much they wanted to keep playing and keep moving on."

Keefe called it "fitting" that Knies got the decisive goal considering the impact he had on the game. 

"Kniesy's been great all series," said Tavares. "Just playing heavy hockey."

The 6-foot-3, 217-pound product of the University of Minnesota made his debut with the Leafs late last season and got into seven playoff games before getting hurt early in the second round series against Florida. 

"It was good to have that little experience," Knies said. "I knew what to expect coming into Game 1. It's obviously physical and hard hockey."

Knies isn't backing down from anyone these days. He engaged Bruins winger David Pastrnak in a scrum on Tuesday night. 

"All series long he's been a force to be reckoned with," McCabe said. "I always tell him he's the strongest guy on the ice. He's 21-years-old and he's an absolute horse out there and does a lot of great work for us on the forecheck. He's been starting to kill penalties and to see him get rewarded there with the [game-winning goal] is fitting for a guy who's been working his tail off all series." 

Knies leads the Leafs with two goals in the series. He's second on the team in hits per 60 minutes behind only Reaves. 

ContentId(1.2113994): Rookie Knies emerges as 'force to be reckoned with' for Leafs

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The Leafs will hold a skate at 11 am on Thursday at Scotiabank Arena. 

The Bruins will hold a skate at 11:30 am.