With the playoffs looming, the Toronto Maple Leafs will play it safe against the visiting Boston Bruins on Friday night in the regular-season finale.
Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said after practice on Thursday that 60-goal scorer Auston Matthews, his linemate Mitchell Marner, starting goaltender Jack Campbell and possibly captain John Tavares would be rested for the Friday contest.
The Maple Leafs (53-21-7, 113 points) have clinched home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, when they will play either the Bruins (51-25-5, 107 points) or the Tampa Bay Lightning (50-23-8, 108 points) starting on Monday.
The Bruins defeated the visiting Buffalo Sabres 5-0 on Thursday with captain Patrice Bergeron scoring three goals to reach 400 for his career. Tampa Bay lost 5-2 to the host Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. Boston has the regulation-win tiebreaker over Tampa Bay, which will visit the New York Islanders on Friday.
“I get feedback from the medical team, the performance team, but the most important thing is to have a conversation with the players,” Keefe said. “Give them our perspective, not so much about the upcoming game but how they’re feeling about their game and do they need to play one more. It’s really about Monday.”
Marner will fall three points short of reaching 100 for the season, but he still posted a career best total in that category.
“We have a pretty good awareness of how this year has been and how hard obviously on everyone’s body,” Marner said. “We all discussed that we thought it’s best to rest and do the right stuff until the real thing starts.
“It’s definitely tough (to miss trying for 100), but I want to make sure we’re ready to go to start the playoffs.”
Injured Maple Leafs forwards Ondrej Kase and Michael Bunting and defenseman Rasmus Sandin will not play Friday but are practicing.
Keefe is eager to know the first-round matchup.
“It’s never easy at this point of the season, starting Monday and you don’t know,” Keefe said. “It’s a high probability it’s going to be Tampa, but Boston is right there. It’s a bit easier that we’re playing Boston (on Friday) and we played Tampa twice recently.”
Linus Ullmark made 37 saves to earn the shutout on Thursday in Boston, and Jeremy Swayman is scheduled to start on Friday. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, however, would not name a No. 1 goaltender for the playoffs.
“I think it’ll be a little more open-ended, honestly, than any other year,” Cassidy said before the Thursday game. “Will we run with one guy? Absolutely, if he’s on. If a guy is not on, we’re not afraid to go to the other guy, because we’ve seen him play well. So that’s also in our back pocket.”
Ullmark has no playoff experience, while Swayman has appeared in just one postseason game, coming off the bench.
“It’s going to be a decision in the moment, I guess, is the easiest way to say it,” Cassidy said.
Looking ahead to the first round of the playoffs, when the Bruins will oppose either the Maple Leafs or the Carolina Hurricanes, Cassidy said, “I think you’re getting a tough matchup no matter what. Every team probably handles it differently. In our case, we’ve said, ‘Let’s be playing our best hockey when we can and be healthy.’ Try to manage the workload for your players that play a lot, so we’re sticking to that plan right now.”
–Field Level Media