TORONTO – It may not be on the level of Bobby Baun scoring on a broken leg or Michael Jordan spitting on the pizza, but William Nylander skated through some newly revealed adversity during the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 5-0 Game 1 beatdown of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
For Monday’s pre-game lunch, Nylander consumed some bad sushi from a restaurant he hadn’t been to in a long time and was puking before puck drop. He persevered — and looked to be flying out there — but skipped Tuesday’s practice to rest.
The winger feels “way better” now, but was unable to keep food or fluids in his system Monday and ran out of gas in the second half of the game.
“I mean, it’s Game 1 — you’ve got to be ready. Can’t let the poison get to you. But it is what it is,” Nylander said. “We battled through as a team and played good.”
Teammate Jake Muzzin has played through food poisoning himself in the past.
“You gotta do it. Doesn’t matter,” Muzzin said.
“You don’t feel 100 per cent. You’re not sleeping the best. You’re getting dehydrated from throwing up all the time. But you do your best to get the body and the mind right, and you know you gotta go out there and perform.”
Think the city isn’t coming down with a case of playoff fever? The term “sushi” was trending on Toronto Twitter Wednesday afternoon. Seriously.
Cooper hesitant to give credit
Lightning coach Jon Cooper has framed Game 1 as “a freebie” given by the champs to the Leafs. He believes most of Tampa’s wounds were self-inflicted, that “they let them off the hook a little bit.”
A response is coming.
“This isn’t the first time that we’ve lost Game 1 and won the series. So, it’s not ideal. But it’s not like it’s unchartered waters,” Cooper said. “We’ve got a feel for what this is going to be, the building and the players. But we’ve gotta dig a little deeper. It was way too easy a night for their goaltender.
“One goalie actually had to work, and the other goalie didn’t have to work that hard.”
What did Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe think of Cooper’s it’s-not-you-it’s-me tone?
“He’s gonna have his thoughts and his opinions on his team, of course. Probably not unlike when we went down there and lost 8-1. He probably felt really good about his team and what they did. And I, of course, didn’t feel we felt very good about (that loss), that’s just natural for coach to do that,” Keefe said.
“We obviously did a lot of good things in the hockey game that we can build upon. But at the same time, that’s not the Tampa team that we prepared for. We’re expecting to see that team tonight.”
Beware the Vasilevskiy streak
Alex Killorn doesn’t know how the mind of reigning Conn Smythe winner Andrei Vasilevskiy works. But he knows it’s unique.
“I couldn’t tell you what goes on in his mind. He’s very dedicated. He’s super-competitive. He’s hard on himself — probably harder than anyone on himself. But I think that’s what makes him so great, because he expects so much from himself,” Killorn said.
“It’s the difference for a lot of great players. When the intensity goes up a little higher, he seems to elevate his game. When you look at last year in those game-clinching games in the playoffs, that’s when he played his best hockey — when there was most on the line, when there was the highest pressure.”
The craziest and most telling Vasilevskiy stat?
He brings a record of 14-0 after a playoff loss, with a 1.35 goals-against average and five shutouts, into Game 2.
“To be honest, I was more impressed about the way he was in the locker room after the game,” Lightning forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “He wasn’t bothered. He just said to make sure we understand what happened and focus on the next one coming up.”
Last time Vasilevskiy lost two in a row in the postseason, the Lightning were swept in Round 1 by the underdog Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019.
“Vasi’s the man,” said Cooper, simply. “I want no other guy back there but him.”
Bunting is back
No shocker after witnessing Calder Trophy candidate practise in full Tuesday and speak about his eagerness to dive into the action: Michael Bunting is confirmed to be making his NHL playoff debut Wednesday.
“The way he works and hunts pucks down is the way he gets under some guys’ skin,” Nylander said.
Coach has Clifford’s back
Keefe said Tuesday he was not surprised by the one-game suspension issued to Kyle Clifford for his boarding of Ross Colton.
“He has to toe the line,” Keefe said. “It is not an easy ask for a player like him. When you’re him, you go on the ice, you want to get on top of the opposition quickly, you want to finish your checks, and you want to make your mark physically. He had just finished a good check. The building is kinda erupting. All of a sudden, there is a second check there. It is a split-second decision, and it wasn’t a good one. He knows that.”
Cooper said the hit “probably warranted a suspension” but that he saw no malice or intent to injure: “There’s no history between Clifford and Colton.”
Hate the hit, not the player.
Despite the ill-advised major, Keefe maintains that the energy of his bottom six jolts with Clifford on it.
“When I go back and look at our last 20 games and I pull out the games where our fourth line has been the best — and I am talking about playing the game, defending, skating, forechecking — it has been with Kyle Clifford in the lineup,” Keefe said.
One-Timers: Corey Perry was fined $2,500 for “unsportsmanlike conduct” in Game 1 but played dumb when asked about his involvement in the third-period shenanigans: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Pat Maroon declined comment. … Prioritizing rest, the Lightning gave its players the “double option” Wednesday morning, meaning they not only had the option to skate but to show up at the rink at all. Many took both options. … The Maple Leafs’ only lineup change is swapping in Bunting for the suspended Clifford. … Zach Bogosian replaces Jan Rutta (bloodied by Morgan Rielly in Game 1) on the Lightning blue line.
Maple Leafs projected Game 2 lines:
Bunting – Matthews – Marner
Mikheyev – Tavares – Kerfoot
Nylander – Kämpf – Engvall
Kase – Blackwell – Simmonds
Rielly – Lyubushkin
Muzzin – Brodie
Giordano – Liljegren