When the Maple Leafs put their Game 1 roster together, there could be a John Tavares – William Nylander reunion in the works.
“If John was here at practice (the captain had a ‘maintenance’ day Thursday) those guys would’ve been together,” coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We’ll see what the lineup looks like (for Friday’s final regular season match), but we’re looking that way now.”
Keefe will be monitoring Michael Bunting’s leg injury between now and next week, as well as the possible return of winger Ondrej Kase from six weeks away with a concussion. If Alex Kerfoot is elevated to play with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in Bunting’s place as the trio practiced together Thursday, it leaves Nylander open to moving back up to the second line after he and centre Tavares were split in recent weeks and Nylander moved to a two-way third line.
“It gave them different linemates, different looks, had them playing in different situations,” Keefe noted of their time apart. “They’ve played together at some points of every game and not just on power play. We’ll make a decision based on who we are playing (next week), what the matchups look like. The reasons we did that, not just with John and Will, but everybody, is to give us some options.”
Marner said he wasn’t going to be scoreboard watching on Thursday night to see if the Leafs draw the Lighting or Bruins as first-round opponents.
“I’m going to go and support the Raps,” he declared of his evening viewing plans. “It’s been great to watch; their season, the fight in them, no quit, regardless of who is in or out of their lineup. Guys come in and take the bigger role they need to.
“With what we’ve got going on tonight, the atmosphere at Scotiabank Arena, kind of the whole Toronto-based sports area fan base right now (with the Blue Jays’ hot start), there’s a lot of exciting things going on. As a fan, it’s fun to watch and as a Toronto guy, it’s even better.
“It’s contagious for us as well and we’re excited to get going.”
Kerfoot and a few other Leafs say different players have varied feelings on sitting the last regular season game, but if he’s in Friday, he’s not thinking of possible misfortune in a ‘nothing’ game.
“I’m not changing the way I play at all,” Kerfoot said. “It doesn’t matter what time of the season it is. Injuries are part of the game, a kind of crazy, fluke thing that can come at any time.
“The more you start thinking about it, the mentality can get you in trouble. It would be unlucky (to be hurt Friday), but you can also get injured in the first game of playoffs.”
Bunting practised ahead of the other Leafs on Thursday with goalie Petr Mrazek (groin). Kase (concussion) was in a no-contact red sweater. Defenceman Rasmus Sandin (knee) is close, but won’t play Friday … The Leafs are trying to hold their first overall power play position among all 32 teams heading into the final two days of the schedule. They’re at 27.2% after being better than 30% for a long stretch, with St. Louis next at 26.5%, but also with just one game remaining … Marlie defenceman Joseph Duszak was named a Second Team AHL all-star on Thursday with 51 points in 60 games. Named to First Team forward was Stefan Noesen of the Chicago Wolves with 81 points. The 29-year-old Noesen came to the Leafs with Nick Foligno in the three-way deal with Columbus and San Jose and played one NHL game here.