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TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who held a team meeting on Thursday at Ford Performance Centre before travelling to Tampa ahead of Friday’s Game 3 matchup.

After combining for just one goal against the Montreal Canadiens in last year's playoffs, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are off to a productive start against the Tampa Bay Lightning this year. Both have two goals and three assists through two games.  

"They've been great," said winger Wayne Simmonds. "Obviously, everyone's going to dwell on the past. Hopefully these first two games kind of put that to bed. It's up to the rest of us to match their intensity. Big kudos to those guys. Those guys were putting their bodies on the line and doing everything they could."

They've been impressive at both ends of the ice. Matthews chased down Steven Stamkos to deny an odd-man rush on Wednesday.

"When you see things like Matty back checking and breaking up two-on-ones and stuff like that, it goes a long way for your group," noted veteran defenceman Mark Giordano

Matthews has taken on a greater leadership role this season. His message after the Game 2 defeat? 

"They came with a push and now it's our turn to push back and make sure that we have an answer," the 24-year-old said. 

The Leafs own a 4-0 edge in five-on-five play with Matthews on the ice so far. 

But the task for Toronto's top line will presumably be tougher in the next two games as the series shifts to Tampa where Lightning coach Jon Cooper will have the last-change advantage. 

"Obviously, it gives them a bit of an edge," Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe acknowledged. "I would imagine you are going to see [Brayden] Point, [Anthony] Cirelli, and [Alex] Killorn trying to get a lot of time against Matthews."

The Leafs top line struck twice on Wednesday, but Cirelli wasn't on the ice for either tally. Much like Phillip Danault, who was effective for the Canadiens last year, Cirelli will be laser focused on the defensive side of the game.

"He doesn't cheat," Cooper stressed. "He doesn't quit, he always stops on pucks and he has an anticipation that's ahead of most people. An excellent stick. Every fundamental. There's [Patrice] Bergeron and [Anze] Kopitar, those elite guys, but you ask anybody and playing against Cirelli is not fun. He just has an innate ability to know … where the guy's going to go and where the puck is going to be and be able to take it away."

"He plays fast," observed Matthews. "Very versatile. He kind of does everything for them as well, [including] penalty kill, power play. He's a good player and maybe gets a little under-[rated] because of all the star players they have. He's a big driver for them."

Cirelli played his way onto a few Selke Trophy ballots last year finishing 20th overall in voting for the league's top defensive forward. 

"He's a hound," Cooper continued. "It's a trait that a lot of guys don't have because they don't practice it or feel like it's a necessity, because everyone wants to put the puck in the net."

"He's a great skater," Killorn said. "Even when he sometimes gets out of position, he does a great job getting back. He's great at winning 50-50 battles. It's something that doesn't get talked about enough. In the corners and big-time battles at the blue line, it seems like he's always on the winning side of those." 


Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 31 of 34 shots in the Game 2 win. He's now 15-0 after a loss since the start of the 2020 playoffs. When it comes to bouncing back, there's no one better right now than the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.    

"He has done a remarkable job at it," agreed Leafs goalie Jack Campbell. "For me, personally, it's just exciting. Turn the page and get to play another hockey game against a great team. It will be a lot of fun."

Campbell is 1-2 following a loss in his limited Stanley Cup playoff career with all those games happening last year against Montreal. 

Campbell allowed five goals on 34 shots in Game 2. 

"I felt good in there," he said. "I still expect myself, when it's me against the shooter, to come up with all those saves. But, overall, some good stuff. Just got to keep working. It's a tough opponent and excited for the challenge."

One of the one-on-one situations that Campbell wanted a do-over on was the Victor Hedman buzzer beater on the power play at the end of the first period. 

"He's got a long reach so I anticipated him to shoot it or pass it backside," Campbell said. "I just got to stay a little more composed."

Toronto's parade to the penalty box made Campbell's life harder. 

"Obviously a pretty tough power play with those two guys," Campbell said of Nikita Kucherov and Stamkos, who operate on the flanks. "Not too many teams have the two options."

Tampa got seven chances on the man advantage on Wednesday and converted on three of them with Kucherov and Point also getting on the board. 

"There were a lot of challenging looks on that power play," Keefe said. "With Kucherov, you never know if he is going to shoot, pass or when he is going to shoot it, or who he is going to pass it to. He presents a lot of challenges for a goalie. We have to make it easier on him when we can on our penalty kill. Otherwise, I thought he battled. I thought he made good saves for us. It is not a reason why we didn't win the game."


The Leafs have been shorthanded 12 times already in the series. 

"If you pay attention around the league, they're calling it tight right now," Giordano said. "There's a lot of power plays. As players we have to recognize that and adjust to that and take less penalties. When you give a team like that that many touches their top players start feeling better about themselves."

Toronto's penalty kill was a perfect 5/5 in Game 1, but cracked under the weight of the workload on Wednesday. 

"They got a lot of skill," noted Marner. "They got practice. They got video. They can eventually kind of see what we're trying to do and make plays around it. It's the same thing when we get a lot of opportunities."

The Leafs took 3.57 penalties per 60 minutes in the regular season, which ranked 17th in the NHL. So, what's going on right now?

"The [holding] one on Giordano yesterday is one that happens 50 times a game in front of the net on both sides," Keefe said. "That one didn't go our way. The second penalty to [Alex] Kerfoot [for holding] is one we cannot take at the end of the period. It had been good a period to that point for us. Now we have to kill it, give them another look and it ends up being 1-0 at the end of the first."

Simmonds was called for roughing Pierre-Édouard Bellemare in the second period and cross-checking Corey Perry in the third. Tampa scored on both those power plays. 

"That stings," Simmonds said. "I'm a man. I can admit when I was wrong. I was wrong twice and we paid for it."  

"Obviously, the two Simmonds penalties after the whistle are tough penalties for us to take," Keefe said. "We have to manage that better."


The Leafs fourth line failed to gain traction in Game 2. Simmonds was undisciplined and the group, which also included Colin Blackwell and Ondrej Kase, was on the ice for a goal against. 

Kyle Clifford is eligible to return on Friday after serving his one-game suspension. Jason Spezza is also available after sitting out the first two games.

"We have time to process it," Keefe said of his lineup options. "It is a quick turnaround because of a travel day and a non-practice day. We haven't dug too deeply into anything for tomorrow yet. We were just chatting a little bit about yesterday. We will make our decisions. We will see how the group is doing from a health perspective and make our determinations from there."

If Spezza gets in, what is Keefe looking for? 

"I would expect a veteran player like him to know how to play," the coach stated. "He is not going to panic. He trusts his ability and his skill."

Spezza, who registered a point in four of his final five regular season games, skated with the black aces on Thursday morning. He spent time working on power-play shots from his office on the flank. Spezza is the quarterback of the second unit when he's in the lineup. 

Toronto is 1/10 on the power play in the series with the lone goal coming via a five-on-three advantage. 

"There's little things that maybe we can look to do," said Matthews, "but not completely abandoning what has made us successful all year. At times in this series we've had some really good opportunities and some really good chances. There's little adjustments we can make, but we've had some chances and just need to see the puck go in."

Toronto had the NHL's best power play in the regular season (27.3 per cent), but the units cooled off in April. The Leafs converted at only a 17.7 per cent clip in the regular season's final month.


The Leafs did not hold a practice on Thursday, but Campbell and Jake Muzzin hit the ice with the black aces and healthy scratches. 

Muzzin, who scored the game-winning goal on Monday, is playing through an injury, but has looked comfortable through two games of the series. 


Hedman looked quite comfortable on Wednesday night as he piled up four points. 

"He's the best defenceman in the league," said Giordano. "He has been for the last five, six years for a reason. I think he plays really well in his own zone. He can get up the ice and plays in all situations. Got to stay above him, can't let him join the play when he wants to."

Hedman is the active leader in career playoff points by a defenceman (92 in 134 games). 

"He's big," said Matthews. "He's strong. He kind of does everything out there offensively and defensively. He's kind of the anchor of their team."


The Lightning and Leafs are scheduled to skate at Amalie Arena on Friday morning.