Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Vasilevskiy, O’Reilly & Knies


Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs begin the series that they hope will finally break their streak of postseason failure to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs. They played well over the final stretch and have home-ice advantage heading into Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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Maple Leafs fans know well what the Lightning are capable of. They knocked the Blue and White out of the playoffs last year in a Game 7 loss on home ice. This season, however, Toronto has another chance to right ship. 

The Maple Leafs made some solid trades at the deadline to bolster their roster. They finished strong with four victories, including one over the Lightning. Now they’ll seek to carry that momentum through the playoffs and make a deep run to Stanley Cup.

In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the player moves heading into the postseason. I’ll also look at some reasons why Ryan O’Reilly might help push the Maple Leafs over the top. 

Item One: The Lightning’s Record Since the All-Star Break

Tampa Bay struggled at the end of the regular season. The team ended with four straight losses before beating the Detroit Red Wings 5-0 in the final game. The Lightning’s play after the All-Star break (a 14-15-5 record) was simply not that impressive. 

Related: Remembering Borje Salming: “King” of Maple Leafs’ Defensemen

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Still, they are the Lightning. The team’s resume shows an impressive postseason record, winning 11 of 12 playoff series and two championships over the past three seasons. In fact, they are hoping to make history by being the first team to reach the Stanley Cup Final in four straight seasons since the New York Islanders did it five times in the 1980s.

The point is, it would be unwise for anyone to count them out of this postseason or (maybe) any other. They are a potent team.

Item Two: Vasilevskiy Is, Well, Vasilevskiy

Goaltending could be the tipping point in this series. The Maple Leafs are counting on Ilya Samsonov to continue his solid play, while the Lightning will be going (as always) with Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy is simply a playoff nightmare for opposing teams. He’s been a standout performer in their past playoff runs and is sure to be tough to score against this postseason. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes a save on Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Vasilevskiy is well-rested coming into this series. He played only two of his team’s last five after the Bolts clinched their postseason spot on April 1. Count on him to be ready as they chase down their fourth straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final (from “Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy rested, strong for another playoff run,” Eduardo A. Encina, Tampa Bay Times, 4/17/2023).

Item Three: Why Matthew Knies Won’t Be Playing Tonight

Matthew Knies won’t be in the lineup for Game 1 tonight. The organization likes him, but as a newcomer, he’s only played three NHL games that had little impact on the regular season’s record. Second, he hasn’t yet played on home ice during a game that counts. 

Related: All-Time Leaders in Stanley Cup Playoff Hat Tricks

Most of all, the players who are playing tonight have earned the right to do so. The team’s fourth line has been one of the best lines over the past dozen games. It’s hard to see Knies adding to that group. Zach Aston-Reese, in particular, has been playing really well. Why replace him?

Matthew Knies Toronto Maple Leafs
Matthew Knies, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images)

I agree with the team’s decision let him watch a game or two from the press box before he sees action – if he does this postseason. Why fix something that isn’t broken? Should the Maple Leafs need him to step up in case of injury, he can do that.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

This Maple Leafs team has one key newcomer to the postseason, and that’s Ryan O’Reilly. In an interview after practice yesterday, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed what O’Reilly’s impact on the team might be during the playoffs.

Related: Are the Maple Leafs Tough Enough for the Postseason?

Keefe spoke about the importance of O’Reilly’s leadership and composure on and off the ice. Specifically, Keefe shared that O’Reilly brings several valuable qualities to the team. He’s a seasoned veteran with playoff experience and leadership skills. He also carries a sense of composure and confidence. He’s a vocal player on the ice and helps keep the team focused and motivated. Finally, he’s known for being a playoff performer, and he has a history of playing well in high-pressure situations.

Off the ice, Keefe pointed out that O’Reilly is a selfless teammate who is aware of his surroundings and works to help others improve. His presence adds depth and flexibility to the lineup. He will be important to the Maple Leafs in the playoffs. He’s a valuable addition to the team and could help the Maple Leafs go deep into the postseason. 

He will be fun to watch, and from what I’ve read, I wish he wore a microphone.

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