There was talk of Alex Galchenyuk’s confidence less than 48 hours after his turnover became Nick Suzuki’s overtime-winning goal. There was a rallying cry around getting back to fundamentals in order to keep this series from reaching a Game 7.
And there was young defenceman Rasmus Sandin working on his one-timers at the Bell Centre long after most teammates had left the building Saturday morning — a sign that he’d be replaced by Travis Dermott in the lineup after a couple costly puck retrieval errors during Thursday’s game.
“Rasmus is coming off of a tough night and we just felt here today that going with Derms would be the right move for us here today,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “It gives Rasmus a little bit more time to settle in. Kind of a combination of both learning from the previous game and then gaining a little extra experience as he’s making his way through his first playoff series in the NHL.”
The only lineup question facing the Leafs surrounded Nick Foligno, who gingerly made his way through the morning skate. He’s missed the last three games of this series with a lower-body injury and could draw back in as the second-line centre if he feels good enough to go following the warmup.
This promises to be a game that captures the attention of the country, both because of Toronto’s 3-2 lead in the series and the fact that there’ll be 2,500 fans in attendance — making it the first crowd for a sporting event in Canada since the pandemic began 14 months ago.
In that regard, Keefe reasoned, it promised to be a night that was bigger than the Leafs, the Habs or even the league.
“It’s less about the game and our sport and the playoffs and all of that, but more just about some progress being made in the country,” he said. “I think that’s a really good sign for everybody.”
The Leafs missed out on an opportunity to win their first playoff series in 17 years Thursday night. They fell behind Montreal 3-0, rallied to tie the game and lost in overtime on the 2-on-0 breakaway Suzuki and Cole Caufield were gifted by Galchenyuk’s turnover at the offensive blue line.
Keefe had a conversation with the veteran winger afterwards to try and keep it from shaking his confidence.
“It’s a difficult one to overcome and it would hit any player hard, but again it’s really important you don’t let one play define you as a player,” he said. “I think as we look at the big picture he’s done a lot of really good things. In fact he was a major difference-maker for us in Game 4 (with three points), he’s played really well since he’s come in and taken part in this series.
“He’s got lots of reasons to just push past that one and be himself here tonight.”
That sentiment basically summed up Toronto’s approach Saturday.
This will be the 16th time they’ve faced the Canadiens during this unusual pandemic season and they’ve won 10 of those games. Finding one more victory to advance to the second round won’t require reinventing the wheel.
“(The players) recognize that we weren’t good enough the other day and that’s why we’re here in Montreal tonight,” said Keefe. “The guys have confidence in themselves and their ability. We just have to go out here today and just be who we are.
“We’ve played a lot of games here this season … and you look at what you’ve done to get to this point in the big picture, in the grand scheme and that gives us confidence to be able to go out and play a good game here tonight and finish this series off.”