TORONTO — The Maple Leafs have lost top-pairing defenceman Jake Muzzin to injury for the remainder of their qualifying-round playoff series against Columbus, but they aren’t in any mood to wallow.
“I believe that in our game in particular, everybody’s replaceable,” head coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters on a Zoom call from the NHL’s Eastern Conference Hub at the Royal York Hotel on Wednesday. “Every single player is valuable, and Muzz certainly is among the most valuable and important people. But we’re going to have guys come in and we’re going to step up and just continue rolling along as a team.”
The Leafs were less than two minutes away from closing out the Blue Jackets in Game 2 on Tuesday night when Muzzin, out killing a penalty, was cross-checked from behind by Pierre-Luc Dubois and tripped head-first into Oliver Bjorkstrand’s knee.
Muzzin stayed down on the ice surrounded by medical personnel for nearly 15 minutes, before being stretchered off and taken to a local hospital accompanied by general manager Kyle Dubas. The 31-year-old has since returned to the Leafs’ bubble and will remain in quarantine and hopeful of a return if Toronto advances.
When play resumed on Tuesday, the Leafs finished off Columbus without Muzzin in a 3-0 shutout, to even their best-of-five series at one game apiece. But with Game 3 and Game 4 looming in the span of 24 hours on Thursday and Friday, there’s precious little time to make adjustments.
“It’s obviously tough. [Muzzin’s] a huge part of our team,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly. “It’s important that we have guys that are willing to take on more responsibility. I don’t think you can replace what he does for our team but I think it’s important to have other guys help [fill] that void. He really offers a lot, but I think it’s a good opportunity for guys to play more minutes, to play in different situations and rise to the occasion.”
Keefe got to work on altering his blue line in Wednesday’s practice, sliding Travis Dermott up to replace Muzzin beside Justin Holl as the Leafs’ top pairing, and adding Martin Marincin to the mix on the third pairing with Tyson Barrie.
Keefe had played Dermott and Holl together late in the regular season when Muzzin had previously suffered a broken foot, and they earned mixed results. Per Natural Stat Trick, in nearly 300 minutes playing together, Dermott and Holl were outscored 12-11 by opponents when on the ice, but held nearly 51 per cent possession.
Regardless, Keefe still felt confident enough to explore that option again.
“Both guys were taking on greater responsibility [back then],” Keefe explained. “Holl had really been doing it most of the season, had taken a big step, in terms of his responsibility and his role. Dermott is evolving and taking on more as it comes. It’s really been injury situations that have given him increased opportunity throughout the entire season and this is no different. [He showed before] just that he can handle that [promotion] when called upon.”
In the 16 games Muzzin was sidelined for due to injury in 2019-20, Toronto still managed a 7-5-4 record, and are at least somewhat familiar in how to get by in his absence. But Muzzin’s impact on the group is felt all over, from inside and outside the dressing room.
During the regular season, Muzzin averaged the third-most minutes among Leafs at 21:36 per game and was their second-most used penalty killer, averaging 2:31 shorthanded per night. That’s part of the reason why Keefe tapped Marincin, and not rookie Rasmus Sandin, to step in for Muzzin – not only does Marincin bring comparable size (his 6-foot-5 frame nearly mirrors Muzzin at 6-foot-3), the 28-year-old also logs heavy minutes on the kill, averaging 1:40 shorthanded in 26 regular season appearances.
“We think that Marty brings some of the elements that Muzz brings,” said Keefe. “Obviously he doesn’t replace Muzz in the intangibles that he brings; he’s a very important player for us. But there are some elements in particular [that Marincin has], like the penalty killing and the size. So there’s some similarities there in terms of what he can provide us and that’s important.”
Marincin hasn’t played in an NHL playoff game for Toronto since 2017, but was a key part of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies’ Calder Cup run in 2018. That’s a far cry from the championship pedigree Muzzin brings to the group, as a Stanley Cup winner with the Los Angeles Kings.
So while everyone may be replaceable in theory, some elements aren’t transferable. In the high-stakes playoff series at hand, Toronto will have to thoroughly test its own perseverance.
“I think [his contributions] start with the off-ice aspect, in terms of being a leader,” Rielly said. “His playoff mentality, he has experience, he’s played in these games before so that’ll be missed. But I think on the ice, just playing tough minutes against the opponent’s top line, playing penalty kill minutes. He’s a big tough guy out there for us that blocks shots, leads by example. We’re going to miss him, but it’s an opportunity for guys to step up and take more responsibility and have an impact.”
Pavelski ties record for NHL postseason goals scored by US-born player – NHL.com
Joe Pavelski tied Joe Mullen for most goals scored in the NHL postseason by a United States-born player with two for the Dallas Stars in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Friday.
Pavelski, a Wisconsin native, has scored 12 goals this postseason to give him 60 in his NHL career. Mullen, a New York native, scored 60, and Mike Modano, from Michigan, scored 58.
“It’s cool to be up there with those names,” Pavelski said this week. “We are focused right now on the Finals, so all that stuff is just extra. Just look at it another day. … But I’ve played in a lot of playoff games, scored some goals along the way, and we’re here today. So I’ll keep trying to add to it.”
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He scored with 1:32 remaining in the first period, and with 8:25 left in the third period to tie the game 4-4. Kevin Shattenkirk scored 6:34 into overtime to move Tampa Bay one win from winning the Stanley Cup. Game 5 of the best-of-7 series is Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
Pavelski declined to comment on the record after the game.
Pavelski scored 14 goals in 67 games this season after scoring 38 for the San Jose Sharks the season before. The 36-year-old has played 159 NHL postseason games and scored two goals in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers this postseason.
Modano played 176 Stanley Cup Playoff games and won the Stanley Cup in 1999 when the Stars defeated the Buffalo Sabres.
Mullen played 143 playoff games and who won the Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989 and the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992.
Pavelski is the fourth NHL player to score at least 10 goals in a postseason at age 36 or older, joining Maurice Richard (11 with the Montreal Canadiens in 1958), Wayne Gretzky (10 with the New York Rangers in 1997), and Brett Hull (10 with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002).
Blue Jays: Taijuan Walker won’t be cheap to re-sign, but he’s worth it – Jays Journal
Taijuan Walker has quietly been one of the better pitchers in the AL since he was traded to Toronto, and the Blue Jays should do what they can to re-sign him.
Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays front office had a very busy trade deadline this year, and with the benefit of hindsight, it’s a good thing they did. The additions of Robbie Ray, Ross Stripling, and Jonathan Villar have all come with mixed results, but there’s no doubt that they still helped push an injury-depleted roster into the playoffs.
As for Taijuan Walker, he’s not only helped in that regard, he’s proven that he could be the type of starter that the Blue Jays have to seriously pursue this winter. After the way he’s pitched down the stretch for the Blue Jays, he’s not going to come cheap if they are looking to retain him.
After throwing three hitless innings on Friday, the right-hander will finish the regular season with a 4-3 record, a 2.70 ERA, and a 1.16 WHIP across 11 starts in this abbreviated season. As impressive as those numbers are, he’s been even better since joining the Blue Jays. In those six starts he’s been good for a 1.37 ERA, and has more than proven himself capable of being a playoff starter as the team heads to the post-season.
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It’s expected that once they’re through with this playoff run, the Blue Jays will look to add to their rotation for the 2021 season. As things stand now they’ll still have Hyun Jin Ryu, Nate Pearson, Ross Stripling, Trent Thornton, and others who have pitched in relief this year like Anthony Kay, Thomas Tom Hatch, Ryan Borucki, Julian Merryweather and more. They also have Tanner Roark under contract for one more year, and a 9.5 million dollar option on Chase Anderson, but they’re set to lose Matt Shoemaker, Robbie Ray, and Walker to free agency.
They have enough options that the Blue Jays could stand pat and build a rotation with their in-house options, but I doubt that’ll be the way they go. That’s especially the case as they’ve proven that they’re ready to compete in 2021, having qualified for the post-season this year. Yes, it’s under an expanded format, but they’re still sitting at 31-27 on the season, and that a significant step for this young and talented core.
With that in mind, I believe the Blue Jays will spend to bring in a starter that could comfortably slot as the number two behind Ryu. That could very well be a spot that’s destined for a guy like Pearson, but Walker would provide important high-end depth for the next few seasons at least, and that could be a difference maker. At just 28 years old, he’s likely just entering his prime as well, and this year has been a great indication of where his potential could be.
What will it cost to retain him? I know it sounds like a cop out, but I’m honestly having a hard time taking a guess given the way the pandemic has likely changed the financial dynamics of free agency. In a normal year I wouldn’t be that surprised if he could look for 4-5 years at 15-20 million, but will there be teams lining up with that kind of offer this winter? It’ll depend on what ownership has to say about the budget, and that could be a tricky situation for a lot of teams.
As for the Blue Jays, most of their best players are still playing on pre-arbitration contracts, and with so many other bargains on the roster, this is the perfect time to continuing adding final pieces. After that audition that Walker has shown the Blue Jays this summer, I can’t imagine they’ll let him get away without at least making a serious offer, and if he adds to his resume in the playoffs then the pressure will really fall on Atkins to keep him around. It’s been a match made in heaven so far, and a partnership well worth trying to extend.
Stars’ Hintz, Bishop, Comeau and Faksa ‘unfit to play’ in Game 5 – Sportsnet.ca
Hintz left Game 4 after taking a hit from Tyler Johnson in the second period and did not return. In 25 games this post-season, the 23-year-old has 13 points.
Faksa will miss his seventh straight game with an undisclosed injury, while Comeau is out for his second straight game. Bishop has been sidelined since Game 5 against the Colorado Avalanche.
Goalie Anton Khudobin missed the Stars’ morning skate as Jake Oettinger was present at practice but the team confirmed that Khudobin would get the start.
The Stars trail the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 in their series. Puck drop for Game 5 is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. ET on Sportsnet.
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