Leafs rookie Knies 'unlikely' to return to series after sustaining concussion
TSN SportsCentre Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe and Panthers coach Paul Maurice held Zoom calls with the media on Friday ahead of Game 3 in Florida on Sunday.
Matthew Knies will miss the next two games after being diagnosed with a concussion.
"We would call him day-to-day beyond that, but given the symptoms and such, I would say it is unlikely he'll return in the series," said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. "We will give him some time to recover and see how it goes."
Knies started the playoffs as a healthy scratch, but the 20-year-old quickly emerged as an important contributor after entering the lineup for Game 2 of the first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The big left winger was on the ice for all three overtime winners and earned a promotion to the top line beside Auston Matthews. Knies scored his first career goal on Tuesday night.
"Matt has proven to improve the depth of our team," Keefe said. "We believe we are a better team when he is in. All of that said, we were a very good team before he arrived on the scene here. We will make some adjustments accordingly, but we have full confidence in our group."
Knies started Thursday's game, his 10th in the NHL, on the Ryan O'Reilly line, which was being matched against Florida's red-hot unit of Sam Bennett between Matthew Tkachuk and Nick Cousins.
Tkachuk, who tried to get under Knies' skin with some trash talk on Tuesday, hit him hard early in Thursday's game. Minutes later Bennett took Knies to the ice when the pair became tangled behind the Leafs net. There was no call on the play.
"I would've liked to see a penalty on it," said O'Reilly. "It's unfortunate. He's been playing so great for us ... it's a dangerous play and it happens."
the overhead view of the Bennett-Knies drop looks so much worse pic.twitter.com/X7V41xHmHu— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) May 5, 2023
Tkachuk chuckled when the potential for supplemental discipline for Bennett was raised.
"I do not think he will hear from Player Safety on that, no," Tkachuk said.
Bennett did not hear from the Department of Player Safety for the Knies play, but was fined for his cross-check to the neck of Michael Bunting.
Keefe called that play "eerily similar" to the one that earned Matthews a two-game ban for cross-checking Buffalo Sabres defenceman Rasmus Dahlin in the Heritage Classic outdoor game last year.
"I didn't see the outdoor game," Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. "I know that would shock you that we wouldn't all be focused on the Leafs games. I can't comment on that. Everybody seemed to survive that."
Florida’s Sam Bennett has been fined $5,000, the maximum allowable under the CBA, for Cross-checking against Toronto’s Michael Bunting.— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) May 5, 2023
As for the Bennett take down of Knies going unpenalized?
"I think we have been on the other side of the ledger enough," Maurice said.
The Leafs have had seven power plays in the series versus just two for the Panthers.
With Toronto trailing 3-2, winger William Nylander led the comeback effort on Thursday night.
"In the third period, William was a dominant player," Keefe said. "He was the best player on the ice for either team by a mile, I thought. He really took control of the game and created a number of looks for him and his linemates. Obviously, he was unable to get it over the line for us. That is the next step. But the way William took charge of the game in the third period shows what he is capable of doing and what we need more of."
Nylander has now gone six straight games without a goal and four straight without a point.
Nylander (13), Matthews (12), John Tavares (10) and Mitch Marner (seven) have combined for 42 shots in the series, but Toronto's top forwards have yet to solve Sergei Bobrovsky.
"You need your goaltender to win you a game every series," said Maurice. "He did that."
"I must've jumped out my seat three times," said Matthews. "I thought we had the puck in the net and it's laying right there or just missed and whatnot. We want to continue to stick with it."
But there are also adjustments that can be made.
"There is always more that we can do for sure," Keefe said. "Whether there are shots in traffic to make life harder on him that way and continue to do that, or we have had a significant number of really clean looks where it is shooter against goaltender — far more than we had in the previous series. We have to find ways to make good on those as well. It is the combination of the two things — both making it harder on some more distanced-related shots, but obviously when we are in alone, we have to find ways to bury those as well and make good on those chances."
Bobrovsky has stopped 69 of 73 shots in the series (.945 save percentage). Ilya Samsonov has stopped 50 of 57 shots (.877 save percentage). Does Samsonov see Bobrovsky's strong play as a challenge to raise his level?
"I don't give a f--k," he said.
"It doesn't matter for me. I'm doing my work. He's doing his work."
Samsonov was a big reason why the Leafs beat the Lightning. He was able to stay one save ahead of countryman Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Asked about the state of Samsonov's game, Keefe said, "He's fine."
The Leafs have won all three games on the road during the playoffs, including pulling off a pair of come-from-behind victories in Tampa.
"Our group has been resilient," said Keefe. "We saw that ... in the last series when we were down in games and the guys stayed with it to find a way. It would be a very similar type of mindset and approach. Today is an off day for our guys, so it is a chance for them to stay away, clear their heads ... I certainly don't have any doubts in our group. Our group remains confident. Our staff remains confident. There are things that we need to do better and would have liked to have handled better in the two games that we have played here, but those are in the past."
The Panthers lost Game 3 and Game 4 at home during their first-round series against the Boston Bruins.
"It's a long series," said O'Reilly. "There's a lot of hockey left and we have to keep building our game as we go and not worry."
The Leafs haven't lost three straight games since October.
"I think we need to [go] back home and look to the mirror and ask 'What I need to [do] more on the ice for team?'" Samsonov said. "This is what we need to do, everybody."
The Panthers just wrapped up a stretch of five games in nine nights so Maurice is grateful that the next game in this series isn't until Sunday.
"These two days are huge for us to get some rest," he said. "This five-game stretch is as intense as I've ever seen."
Maurice noted the physicality in the Boston series took a lot out of his group.
Keefe feels like this break between games may benefit his team as well.
"Our last series wasn't a walk in the park," Keefe said. "Both teams can benefit from some time off. We have some bumps and bruises and things we will allow to heal. In particular, being in a hole in the series gives us ample time to regroup here."
Maurice pointed out that his team benefitted from a two-day break after falling behind 3-1 in their series against the Bruins.
O'Reilly spent most of his 5-on-5 minutes against the Tkachuk line on Thursday night.
"At times I thought we did some good things against them," said O'Reilly, who won the Selke Trophy in 2019. "Other times they made stuff happen which, for myself, I have to be better in that area. I still have a little more to give there and can be harder against their top guys."
Tkachuk picked up an assist in Game 2, but it came with the Matthews line on the ice. There were no goals scored in the six minutes that Tkachuk and O'Reilly shared the ice in 5-on-5 play. Shots favoured the Panthers 4-2 in those minutes, per NaturalStatTrick.com.
"He's a great player and what he's done and his career has been great," said Tkachuk. "Being from St. Louis, watching what he did for St. Louis pretty closely, he played unreal for them. They got a lot of great players and he's one of them. He's great at both ends of the ice and great on draws. I think that's probably what he's best at. We have to find a way to have the puck more against him."
The Leafs will hold a practice at Ford Performance Centre on Saturday before flying to Florida. The Panthers will hold a practice at FLA Live Arena.