Maple Leafs deal with key injuries as they ‘set the tone’ in Florida

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Max Domi (11) in action during the third period of an NHL hockey game. (Nick Wass/AP)

SUNRISE, FLA. — Ryan Reaves, one of only 12 healthy Toronto Maple Leafs forwards, is licking his chops for Tuesday’s (very likely) Round 1 preview in Sunrise.

“You gotta set the tone for that series,” the fourth-line fighter tells reporters, doing his best Shoresy impression following Monday’s practice. Which precedes what should be a fiery week in the Sunshine State.

Unfortunately for Reaves’ teammates, part of that series’ tone is already attrition.

Bobby McMann (lower body) won’t play in Toronto’s final two regular-season games and is questionable for Game 1. A tough break both for a feel-good story hungry for his first taste of NHL playoff action but also for a roster that has grown to depend on his relaible forechecking and welcome secondary-scoring punch.

“His role has gotten larger and larger,” captain John Tavares says. “We’ll miss him.”

More certain to dress on the weekend but also ruled out for Tuesday and doubtful for Wednesday is Max Domi, whose impact on Auston Matthews’ top line and pursuit of 70 goals has been a bright spot recently. The winger has missed the last two team practices.

The nature of Domi’s injury is under lock and key, lest Paul Maurice read this column.

“We’re not gonna give you much this time of year,” Keefe says. “He’s been dealing with something.”

Calle Järnkrok (hand) is making progress, but he’s not ready to play, nor fit to participate in a full team practice. The two-way forward did run some penalty-kill drills and is still hopeful to draw in for Game 1. But he’ll be coming in cold.

“As a group, we respond well when things move around,” Keefe says.

The good news is that all nine Leafs defencemen should be good to go (knock wood), even if a handful are nursing aches and pains.

“Every team would prefer to be healthy, but the nature of our game is, it’s not really possible. We like the depth of the room, and a lot of guys have been stepping up all year. That doesn’t change down the stretch,” says Jake McCabe, a bit of a masochist who sees the benefit in skating battered.

“Sometimes it helps you play better, at least in my opinion. Gets you pissed off. Or a little on edge. Playing with that tenacity and competitiveness brings the best out of all of us. It’s part of the game. Everybody is dealing with something.”

With only 12 options up front, Matthews should get his crack at 70, while bubble wingers Noah Gregor and Nick Robertson become more valuable.

“You need to use everybody,” Tavares says. “You hope to stay healthy, but that’s just not the reality of playoffs.”

‘Warrior’ McCabe battered but pushing through

“I don’t know how many stitches that face has taken this season, but it’s been a lot,” Keefe says. “He just keeps on going.”

That face belongs to McCabe, who is now sporting a bulbous and bruised shiner on his left cheek to go with his stitched-up lip and repaired nose. Still, no one was able to convince the hardnosed defenceman to fasten on a full shield for Monday’s practice.

Throwing himself in harm’s way is simply part of the gig that comes with shutting down the opposition’s best.

“He’s been a warrior for us,” Tavares raves. “He’s really continued to evolve throughout the year. He’s been a big part of the locker room off the ice as well. A lot of guys look to him to establish that fight, that physical presence, that bite we want to play with.

“He’s become a vital piece for us on and off the ice.”

McCabe and the Leafs got a scare Saturday when the versatile, top-four blueliner blocked a close-range Dylan Larkin blast with his face and skated off the ice leaking blood and swelling fierce.

[brightcove videoID=6350892183112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

There was a sigh of relief seeing a zipped-up McCabe hanging out postgame chatting with fellow Midwest shot-blocker Justin Holl.

“Got lucky,” McCabe says. “It’s always kinda scary with the eyes. I can see fine. Everything’s fine. Nothing’s broken.”

Particularly his reputation.

“That guy’s an absolute warrior,” agrees an appreciative Reaves. “Man, his face is taking a beating. But he’s a warrior. That’s why he plays good minutes for us.

“He’s been one of our best defencemen all year. Just all around a very underrated defenceman in this league.”

Let’s hit the road

Keefe’s Leafs could give two hoots about home-ice advantage in Round 1, which is good because they don’t have it.

And the numbers — current and historic — back up that sentiment.

Toronto is an impressive 24-9-6 away from Scotiabank Arena this season and has a chance to add to its franchise-record-setting 24 road wins this week.

Since 2019, the Maple Leafs have been significantly better in road whites (10-7) come playoff time than in their home blues (6-14).

Keefe doesn’t have a theory to explain this trend besides noticing his group getting to its style of play quicker on the road.

“Our mindset has been good on the road and maybe not as good at home [22-15-4]. I do know we’re confident wherever we play,” Keefe says.

Unfortunately, so are the Panthers. Florida has piled up more road points than even the Leafs this season (26-11-4).

Suffice it to say, location should have little bearing the outcome of Toronto’s openning series.

“We win a lot on the road,” Reaves says. “Good road meals maybe.”

One-Timers: Provided their first-round opponent is the Panthers, the Maple Leafs will remain in Florida. Thursday will be a rest and recovery day, and Friday is scheduled at their final practice before playoffs…. Joseph Woll starts Wednesday. Thursday’s starter is unknown…. Mark Giordano, Conor Timmins, and T.J. Brodie project to play Wednesday in Tampa as Keefe exercises a little load management for the regular-season finale…. The Bruins will clinch the Atlantic Division title Monday if they defeat the Capitals in any fashion, locking in a Florida-Toronto series.

Maple Leafs projected lines Tuesday at Florida Panthers

Bertuzzi – Matthews – Marner

Knies – Tavres – Nylander

Robertson – Hölmberg – Gregor

Dewar – Kämpf – Reaves

Rielly – Lyubushkin

Benoit – McCabe

Edmundson – Liljegren

Woll starts

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.