O’Reilly calls on Leafs to play more physical
The Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning held optional skates at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday.
After a disappointing Game 1 loss, it's already gut-check time for the Leafs.
"Our team, all the way through, has been through a lot," coach Sheldon Keefe said. "We know enough that you need a response here tonight. You have an opportunity to do that. That's what the playoffs are about. You don't get many opportunities to respond, but you certainly have one tonight."
Toronto came out slow and soft on Tuesday night. A couple Stanley Cup champions outlined the area in greatest need of improvement.
"Obviously the physicality has to be better by us," said centre Ryan O'Reilly, who took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2019. "Reviewing the game, there's plenty of times where we weren't as physical as we need to be, especially against them. We need to wear their top guys down and them in general. We just need to be more physical and that's just little commitments, it's stepping in the way of guys, it's getting a touch every chance we can."
"They controlled a lot of the hard areas," noted defenceman Luke Schenn, who won two Stanley Cups with the Lightning. "That's obviously corners and boards and in front of the net. Typically, in playoffs, most goals are scored and games are won and lost in the hard areas, and they were obviously a lot better in that than we were last game."
In the six previous playoff series during the Auston Matthews era, Toronto has only once dropped the first two games of a series – way back in 2018 against the Boston Bruins.
"They're going to play their hearts out," said Lightning defenceman Mikhail Sergachev. "I'm expecting them to push."
"They're going to be as desperate as can be," said Lightning defenceman Ian Cole. "We'll have to match that desperation."
Tampa Bay will be without gritty defenceman Erik Cernak, who was hit in the head by Michael Bunting in Game 1.
"Obviously I didn't like it," said Sergachev. "It was away from the puck and got him right in the chin. It was pretty tough to watch, and I've never seen Erik go down like that. It was tough, definitely."
Victor Hedman is a game-time decision with an undisclosed injury, which forced him to leave Game 1 after playing just six minutes and 35 seconds.
"Do guys play through pain in the playoffs? Yeah, of course," said Schenn. "Is he one of the guys that has in the past? Certainly ... My guess is he'll try and give it a go."
Lightning coach Jon Cooper points out that his team has weathered injury issues in the past including when Brayden Point went down early in Game 7 against the Leafs last season.
"It's something we've prepared for and something we can handle," Cooper said. "We use the word 'sacrifice' and I'm sure other teams do. It's do you actually mean it? That's the difference. It just can't be a cliche. It has to be something you live by."
"It's not one guy that has to step up. It's the whole team, from coaches down," said Sergachev. "We've been able to do that and we're going to do it again."
With Bunting suspended three games, University of Minnesota product Matthew Knies will draw into the Leafs lineup and make his Stanley Cup playoff debut.
"I don’t think there’s any pressure on him," Keefe insisted. "He’s not expected to come out here and save the world. If you want to talk about pressure, he’s a top guy playing for a national championship in front of 18,000,19,000 people there for something that he’s grown there, been a part of and he’s the key guy. He’s coming in here to just do his part and that’s really it."
Knies will start on the third line with O'Reilly and Noel Acciari.
"We’ve talked a little bit," said O'Reilly. "It’s enjoying it but trusting himself. He’s a phenomenal player and he’s got to lean into that ... It is different. Playoff hockey is a whole different animal."
Knies picked up his first and only NHL point, an assist on an O'Reilly goal, in a game against the Lightning last week. He's played just three games and Thursday will be his first ever game at Scotiabank Arena.
"We don’t know a ton about him, but he was more than fine in the game that was in Tampa," said Cooper.
Lightning winger Tanner Jeannot is expected to play on Thursday after making an unexpectedly fast recovery from a scary looking lower-body injury on April 6.
"I’ll be honest, if you’d asked me if he’d be back in this first round, no chance," said Cooper. "You all saw what happened to him. It’s pretty impressive he’s back."
Jeannot stands 6-foot-2, 208 pounds and isn't afraid to throw his weight around.
"He’s a physical specimen is what he is," said Cooper. "He’s a guy that can make an impact just physically."
"He brings a lot of physicality," echoed Sergachev. "Guys don’t want to go into the corner with him and usually he’s the one who comes away with the puck."
Mikey Eyssimont will not play after taking a huge hit from Jake McCabe in Game 1, but the Lightning winger did get back on the ice Thursday morning.
Leafs projected lineup for Game 2:
Jarnkrok - Matthews - Marner
Kerfoot - Tavares - Nylander
Knies - O’Reilly - Acciari
Aston-Reese - Kampf - Lafferty
Brodie - McCabe
Rielly - Schenn
Giordano - Holl