The Toronto Maple Leafs played like a team that was looking forward to the postseason and was looking to avoid injury in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre on Wednesday, but the most important aspect of the final match of the Battle of Ontario was the performance of goalie Frederik Andersen.
Jake Muzzin, John Tavares and Auston Matthews scored his league-leading 41st goal of the season to tie the contest late in regulation, but Mitch Marner’s giveaway resulted in Josh Norris’ game-winner nine seconds into overtime.
Andersen in his first start since March 19 made 24 saves, was not at fault for the Norris game-winner or former Leaf Nikita Zaitsev’s opening goal late in the first period, but the veteran netminder seemed tentative at times in moving post-to-post during the game and appeared rusty on the short-handed goal by former teammate Connor Brown and rookie Parker Kelly.
“(Freddy) got through the game, he moved well. I would say that's what stood out.” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “That's really what the game was about is just getting him through the 60 minutes and feeling good. By all accounts, it seems that that was the case.”
Based on the performance on Wednesday, it is highly improbable that Keefe will deviate from starting Jack Campbell in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against Montreal, but the Leafs have to be concerned with Andersen’s readiness if Campbell cannot repeat his regular season success in the postseason.
Toronto second unit scored on the power play early in the middle frame, but the top unit of Matthews, Tavares, Marner, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly once again struggled to gain the zone and generate scoring chances on the man advantage, which has to be a growing concern for the Leafs going into the playoffs.
“It just needs to execute. If you go back and look at each of the power plays, our best players have the puck on their stick at different times, and we just don't make a play. We either give it directly right back to them or they take it from us.” Keefe said. “It's not a matter of structure or anything like that here tonight. It's just a matter of having the puck on your stick and making the appropriate play and we fail to do that tonight with our first unit. The second unit I thought was excellent, scored us a great goal.”
The Leafs finish up the regular season in Winnipeg on Friday.
The NHL released the playoff schedule for the first round on Thursday. The Leafs open their first round series with Montreal on Thursday, May 20 at Scotiabank Arena at 730pm and Game 2 on Saturday, May 22 at 7pm. Games 3 and 4 are back-to-back at the Bell Centre on Monday, May 24 and Tuesday, May 25, with Game 5 (if needed) on Thursday May 27, Game 6 on Saturday, May 29, and Game 7 on Monday, May 31.
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