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Leafs confident with season on the line in Game 7 vs. Lightning

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Only the Maple Leafs play matters now.

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The Leafs were certainly on point with their Saturday morning speech, hours before Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“The atmosphere is great,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said after the team’s morning practice at Scotiabank Arena. “I don’t feel any nervousness, I just feel confidence and excitement.”

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What about Keefe’s own nerves?

“I don’t have one,” Keefe said. “It’s also confident that I coached this team.”

As Keefe should be. By engaging in a deciding game at home against the Lightning, two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, the Leafs have fully earned their game in the first six games of the series. Sure, there were some hiccups, but Tampa, with more experience in winning, will tell you they didn’t play perfect hockey at times either.

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The winner of the best-of-seven first-round series will face the Florida Panthers in the second round after Florida eliminated the Washington Capitals in Game 6 on Friday night.

This Leafs core hasn’t made it past the first round in the last four years, and that wasn’t the case in 2017 before captain John Tavares made it into the squad.

So why does this team, which is 0-8 in its last eight playoff games with the same core of players, think it will bring a different result tonight?

“The confidence I have is because of the way we played on the show,” Keefe said. “Part of it is how we’ve played throughout the season and how well we’ve dealt with challenges, but a lot of the confidence has developed throughout the series.

“You don’t know how the outcome of the match is going to turn out, but the opponent is going to be just as confident, I think, as we are.

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“Where you’re confident is that the players are going to be relaxed, the players are going to come out, they’re going to compete, they’re going to play with energy. That’s what I’m confident in, that we’re going to give each other every chance. to win the game.

And with the hard lessons learned in do-or-die games in recent years. In Game 7 last spring, the Leafs didn’t have much against the Montreal Canadiens and lost 3-1. Two years ago, in the bubble against Columbus in the qualifying round, the Leafs were shut out 3-0 by the Blue Jackets in Game 5.

“I think we came out a bit flat in those games,” winger William Nylander said. “Maybe a little scared of losing.

“We don’t need to be afraid of losing. We have a great team and the best team will win tonight.

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A crowd brimming with excitement could play for the Leafs, as it did when the Leafs beat the Lightning 5-0 in Game 1 and then in Game 5 when the Leafs rallied to win 4-3 .

“All I can do is go from what we’ve been through on this show so far, and for me that has definitely made a difference,” Keefe said. “I expect the same tonight. It’s going to be an electric vibe.

“We have to follow that with our game. I know our fans are going to bring that.

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The Lightning’s motivation has different roots than the Leafs. With Toronto looking to finally clear the first-round hurdle, a Tampa victory would keep the group’s desire to skate into dynasty territory going with a potential third straight Cup.

“Experience doesn’t win you the game, but it can definitely help when times are tough,” Tampa coach Jon Cooper said. “You can’t let the moment get too big. It’s hard to say it’s just another game.

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“We’re not surprised how good they are. They’ve been knocking on the door for so long. I think they grew as a group, I think their stars are stars. They have a very good team game and the coach is doing a great job preparing them. The Leafs have a hell of a team.

The Cooper fan will be happy to soak up the atmosphere on Saturday night.

“Hockey Night in Canada, playing in Toronto is good for the sport,” Cooper said. “You have the double champions, you have a team rich in tradition, extremely popular in this country.

“These moments don’t happen that often. This is must-watch TV if you are a hockey or sports fan. It’s an exciting time. I’m lucky to be in the front row. »

The Leafs’ projected roster for Game 7:



Michael Bunting-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner

Ilya Mikheyev-John Tavares-Alex Kerfoot

William Nylander-David Kampf-Pierre Engvall

Jason Spezza-Colin Blackwell-Ondrej Kase


Morgan Rielly – Ilya Lyubushkin

Jake Muzzin – TJ Brodie

Mark Giordano – Justin Holl


Jack Campbell

Erik Kalgren

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