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Stay healthy, work on details, get a win: Maple Leafs have priorities in final game of regular season

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Health first, details second.

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And if the Maple Leafs can conclude the most successful regular season in franchise history with a victory on Friday night, well, that would be fine too.

The Leafs will welcome their old friends, the Boston Bruins, at Scotiabank Arena to put the cap on the 2021-22 season.

“We want to get through the game healthy,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “At the same time, we’ve been talking about maintaining our habits, especially defensively, how we manage the puck, special teams, power play, penalty kill, those kinds of things, no matter who is in the lineup, we expect to be at a high level.

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“Every time you put your gear on, you’re playing to win. And we’ll coach to win tonight.”

The Leafs won’t have captain John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in the lineup. 

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Erik Kallgren will start in goal, allowing Jack Campbell to have another night of rest before the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs start on Monday in Toronto. 

Keefe will go with 11 forwards and seven defencemen. Joey Anderson, who has 42 points in 55 games for the Toronto Marlies, including a team-high 26 goals, was recalled on an emergency basis and will play. 

The Leafs secured second place in the Atlantic Division and home ice in the first round when they beat Detroit on Tuesday. They know they will face the Bruins or the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. 

But which? Tampa has 108 points, Boston 107. The Bruins hold the tiebreaker with more regulation wins than the Lightning (40-38).

If the Leafs win in regulation, they will play the Lightning. If Tampa wins in any fashion against the New York Islanders, it will be Tampa as the opponent.

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If the Bruins get one point and Tampa gets none against the Isles, the Leafs will play the Bruins. Ditto if the Bruins win in regulation and the Lightning gets one point.

On the morning of Game 82, the Leafs don’t know with certainty which team it will be brought a shrug from Keefe.

“It’s a little strange,” Keefe said. “It’s not ideal, but it is the same on the other side. It’s not like whoever we end up playing is going to have an advantage in that way. 

“We played Tampa twice recently and because there was a higher probability of playing them, we’ve been focused on that, yet we have this game with Boston here. So we’ve been looking at them as well and preparing for this final game. You’re looking at a lot of different things that they’re doing and you’re prepping for that. 

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“We feel like we’re in a fine place, but we’re balancing a little bit of both and a lot of it is going to get thrown out.”

Said winger Wayne Simmonds: “It doesn’t really matter. We’re just trying to focus on ourselves. Whether we get Tampa or Boston, we know what they are about. Both are really good teams.”

The Leafs have set franchise records for points and wins — they’re at 113 and 53 respectively — and 12 players, including Matthews, Marner and William Nylander have set personal highs in points.

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The Leafs will finish with the top power play in the NHL and will be in the top 10 on the penalty kill.

Make no mistake — the Leafs will be judged on how they fare in the post-season. Yet only nit-pickers who don’t have anything better to do would look at the club’s regular season and try to find negatives.

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Were there any revelations this season for Keefe regarding his group? Did they meet expectations? Pass them?

After winning just two of their first seven games, and with calls for changes increasing, the Leafs got it right with an overtime win in Chicago on Oct. 27 and then lost just twice in November, setting the foundation for the team records to fall.

“I didn’t take any sort of time to put any expectations on points or wins,” Keefe said. “You take it a day at a time, you really focus on how your team performs. We knew we were going to be in a very competitive and tough division, to the point that we felt going into it even making the playoffs was going to be a challenge.

“We really solidified ourselves after a tough start. We can’t help but be proud of the work that the guys did to put us in this position in a very difficult time, in response to last season, with some changes to our group. 

“The number of players that had career seasons, there’s lots of really great things to feel good about what the team did. The ultimate goal was to put ourselves in a good spot. 

“The goal was to win the division and we didn’t get that done. Part of that is on us. We left some points on the table. And part of that is that the Florida Panthers have been outstanding from start to finish.

“Our team did a lot of really good things and grew in a lot of areas that give us confidence.”

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