Maple Leafs Game 4 Notebook: Nylander’s return shakes up Toronto’s lineup

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe gives update on the lineup changes prior to Game 4, says Nylander replaces Dewar, and Brodie goes in for Liljegren.

TORONTO — William Nylander‘s introduction to the 2024 playoffs isn’t the only lineup change the Toronto Maple Leafs will make heading into Saturday’s pivotal Game 4 against the Boston Bruins.

The trickle effect of injecting a healthy 40-goal superstar to the middle six will also tweak coach Sheldon Keefe’s effective fourth line, and another swap is being made to the defence corps.

Nylander slides onto an all-Swede third line alongside Pontus Holmberg and Calle Jarnkrok, while young sniper Nick Robertson takes deadline addition Connor Dewar‘s spot on the fourth line.

“Offence is hard to come by. Goals are hard to come by,” Keefe explains of the decision. “[Robertson] has found a way to create chances, get chances in low minutes.”

So dangerous offensively throughout the regular season, the Maple Leafs are averaging just two goals per game in this series — a recipe for elimination in a 3-2 league and a major reason why they’re trailing the Bruins 2-1.

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We fully anticipate Nylander to receive multiple bump-up shifts on a stacked second line with Mitch Marner and John Tavares.

Right-shot defenceman Timothy Liljegren hasn’t contributed any offence, and he and partner Joel Edmundson rank last among Leafs blueliners with a minus-2 rating through three games.

“We like our D pairs. We haven’t liked that D pair as much. That pair hasn’t played to the level of the others,” Keefe said. “The other part of it is, Lily isn’t 100 per cent healthy.”

Liljegren was hunched over in obvious pain on the bench in the third period of Game 3 after getting rocked hard by Jake DeBrusk on the forecheck. On his next shift, he couldn’t clear the zone and Brad Marchand scored the game-winner.

While Keefe is weighing some game-time decisions, expect Liljegren to sit in favour of veteran TJ Brodie, who put up eight points over his past 11 games and totes 55 games of playoff experience.

Keefe offered this as to why the Leafs had been so secretive with injuries at this time of year: “You are protecting the players. It’s a very competitive and physical game. You say guys don’t target one another? Well, I got news for you.”

Baby Boosh

With an assist from the team’s private jet, Ilya Lyubushkin spent 30 hours in Anaheim between Games 3 and 4 so he could attend the birth of his third child and first daughter, Stefania.

Jetlag be damned, Daddy Boosh will be in the lineup.

“I suppose [the travel] would be a pretty big deal,” partner Morgan Rielly says. “As a player, you just got to get ready to play. There was no doubt that he was going to be here and be ready to go.”

Lyubushkin is the only Leafs defenceman who has not been caught on the ice for a goal against in the series.

Lyubushkin is tight friends with Ilya Samsonov, a father of one baby.

Asked if the Lybushkins offered the Samsonovs any child-rearing advice, the goalie hilariously misinterpreted the question, thinking he’d been asked about catching up in the kid count.

“We are working on this,” Samsonov promised. “We are still young.” 

Accidentally on purpose

Game 3’s collision between Max Domi and stud Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman generated plenty of discourse between game nights.

“When Domi goes off the bench and bumps him on purpose, makes me think that maybe he’s in their head a little bit,” volleyed Boston coach Jim Montgomery.

To which Keefe replied: “I sense zero frustration. It’s playoff hockey, and things are happening all over the ice. With that logic, you would say every time they bump into one of our guys, maybe we’re in their heads. I don’t think that has anything to do with anything.”

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While Swayman himself laughed off the skate clip, defenceman Brandon Carlo says the Bruins have zero tolerance for such antics.

“We’re not going to allow them to push us around in that regard. You could see it right away on the bench from Patty Maroon,” said Carlo, noting that Maroon made sure every member of the B’s knew what Domi did. “From there, you try and get your licks back throughout the game.”

Domi is pleading innocence.

“I bumped him? First I’ve heard of it,” the first-line winger told Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun. “I think we ran into each other. But it’s open for interpretation, I guess. I go for a skate every time [they clean the ice].” 

Go! Leafs! Go?

Beloved radio play-by-play man Joe Bowen called out Game 3’s Scotiabank Arena crowd for not being loud and supportive enough.

Our take: Toronto doesn’t bring the unhinged noise at home quite the way throngs in, say, Boston and Winnipeg do. Ticket price is absolutely a factor.

But Maple Leafs fans travel arguably better than any other, and Leafs road games this season in Calgary, Edmonton, Buffalo, Edmonton, and Vancouver have brought electric atmospheres.

The local fans were more amped up than usual on Wednesday, particularly for the monster hits and goals, and plenty of organic chants sprouted out when the game dictated.

Do Leafs fans blindly cheer their hearts out, regardless of score and situation? No.

“I found it quite loud in there,” Keefe said, “and there’s a number of times that it’s hard to even call out lines. You’ve got to scream lines, and you’ve got to kind of move up and down the bench to make sure players are hearing and communicating properly. That was the same in Boston.

“From my perspective, I didn’t see that as an issue at all. In fact, there were some moments in the game where they got extremely loud. But clearly, that’s important. It’s this time of year, it’s hard, and there’s not much between the teams, and the players are giving everything that they have. So, that extra boost is really important.

“If anything, as a coach, your voice and your head is going to pound a little bit because you’re screaming for two-and-a-half hours to try to communicate over top of the noise.”

Maple Leafs pay tribute to the master

John Tavares: “I thought it was the coolest thing the first time I ever heard Bob Cole call my name in a game. I always remember just growing up dreaming about playing in the NHL as a young kid watching Hockey Night in Canada and that passion and love for the game really started to grow and to be inspired by that. And to hear you’re a part of it for the first time and him [call your] name and how that how that impacts you…”

Sheldon Keefe: “Quite honestly, growing up, every memory I would have of hockey would be with his voice echoing. It is very identifiable. One syllable, and you know it is Bob Cole. I have many friends and many people who love the games Bob called and how he called them with the passion he had.”

Samsonov takes ownership

Despite Samsonov’s .895 save percentage through three games, there has been little to no doubt that the Maple Leafs will keep coming back to him at this stage.

The affable Russian took ownership of Trent Frederic’s Game 3 goal off the rush from a relatively easy angle — the softest he’s allowed.

“I need to stop the puck, for sure,” Samsonov admitted. “Probably this my mistake. I’ll prepare better. I watch some video with Curtis [Sanford, Toronto’s goalie coach] and we talk about this a little bit. It’s in the past right now. I need to prepare for next moment.”

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One-Timers: Leaf killerSwayman (2-0, .955) is Boston’s projected Game 4 starter, ending the club’s goalie rotation at 29 games…. Auston Matthews has missed a couple of otherwise mandatory team skates this week due to illness. He hit the ice Saturday morning for the optional (a rarity) to get a feel for the puck. The extra day’s rest should serve him well…. Bobby McMann (lower body) is progressing well, according to Keefe, and should begin skating soon. That he has yet to practise and Game 7 (if necessary) is a week away makes McMann’s appearance in this series unlikely.

Maple Leafs projected Game 4 lines in Toronto:

Bertuzzi – Matthews – Domi
Knies – Tavares – Marner
Nylander – Holmberg – Järnkrok
Robertson – Kämpf – Reaves

Rielly – Lyubushkin
Benoit – McCabe
Edmundson – Brodie

Samsonov starts

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