The Toronto Maple Leafs are heading into the playoffs as North Division leaders. They will be heavy favourites to start Round One against the Montreal Canadiens. Toronto currently holds the most promising roster they have put together in years. For this season to be considered a success, they will have to win multiple playoff rounds at the bare minimum. To do that, it will be key for these Toronto Maple Leafs X-factors to perform this postseason.
We know that this team will get scoring from the Auston Matthews line. He will likely have two of the more talented players playing beside him in Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman, if healthy. The team has also had a sound defence group for most of the season, unlike in other years. This is great for Leafs fans, but what is going the be the Toronto Maple Leafs X-factors this year? What is going to potentially push them over the top? What will give them a chance at winning their first Stanley Cup since 1967?
Toronto Maple Leafs X-Factor: John Tavares
John Tavares did not sign in Toronto for 7 years just to be the captain and live out just one childhood dream. No. He chose to sign here because he thought he could win the Stanley Cup with this team. If that is going to happen, he is going to have to continue on his current hot streak. With 1 game left this season, Tavares has 22 points in his last 18 games with the Maple Leafs.
It will take more than just Auston Matthews scoring to go deep in the playoffs. Who better to turn to than the captain with 30 points over 36 career NHL playoff games? In one particular season, John Tavares led the New York Islanders to playoff series win including a game 7 OT winner against the Florida Panthers in 2015-16. He scored 6 goals and 5 assists for 11 points in 11 playoff games that season.
John Tavares has a little bit to prove as well this playoff. With his high cap hit of 11 million dollars per season, there are exceptionally high expectations. Tavares is yet to win a playoff series with the Maple Leafs in 2 seasons since signing his mega-deal July 1, 2018.
Toronto Maple Leafs X-Factor: Jack Campbell
Goaltending can easily be considered the most important position in hockey. If your goalie has a rough game, odds are your team is not going to win. Much like a pitcher in baseball. We have seen goalies get hot at the right time for teams who have gone on to win Stanley Cups in recent years. They haven’t also been the big household names, even months prior to winning in some cases.
Matt Murray had played 13 career regular-season games before playing 21 playoff games for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015-2016. A year in which they won the Stanley Cup. Another great example of this is Jordan Binnington and the St. Louis Blues in 2018-19. Having split time in the ECHL and AHL for the vast majority of his playing career, Binnington was a huge surprise for many people in the hockey world. He had 33 career NHL regular-season games before playing 26 for a long and successful playoff run.
This brings us to the Toronto Maple Leafs. We know that Jack Campbell has been a bit of a revelation in the past few seasons after spending much of his early career and the AHL and even ECHL. In 21 games this year, Campbell holds a 17-2-2 record, setting a franchise record earlier in the season too. Maple Leafs fans will hope that he can bring the same level of consistency come playoff time.
Along with Jack Campbell, Toronto has 3 other goaltenders with NHL experience with Frederik Andersen, David Rittich, and Michael Hutchinson. With the extended amount of depth, the Maple Leafs are prepared for a deep playoff run.
Toronto Maple Leafs X-Factor: 3rd Line Shut Down
The Toronto Maple Leafs will need effective play from all forward lines this post-season. While some of the depth players may not have the gifted scoring touch, they can still provide value elsewhere. When the Maple Leafs swept the Edmonton Oilers in a 3-game set in Edmonton this season, the talk was not about their top lines. It was about the checking of the 3rd line that shut down Connor McDavid and company. The superstar was held pointless in all 3 games.
The Maple Leafs’ practice lines showed a 3rd line featuring Alex Kerfoot, Riley Nash, and Ilya Mikheyev. All of these players have speed and a 200-foot game that will be supremely annoying to play against. A line devoted to shutting down the opposing team’s top players can have a huge impact. This is especially true for a team that has had no problem scoring goals for the last few seasons.
The old adage from legendary football coach Paul Bryant says “Offence sells tickets. Defence wins championships.” We will see if the team can manage to do both come playoff time.
#Leafs lines at practice:
Extras: Galchenyuk, Engvall
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) May 11, 2021
Kyle Dubas loaded up at the deadline to bring in several serviceable NHL-level talents. Now, he’ll have to see if his Toronto Maple Leafs X-factors will pay off.
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