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TRAIKOS: Who would have guessed that Jack Campbell would be outplaying Andrei Vasilevskiy?

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Five games in, who would have thought Jack Campbell would be outplaying Andrei Vasilevskiy in a first-round playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning?

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Who even thought he’d be going save for save with him?

This isn’t the way it was supposed to shake down. This isn’t what anyone could have expected. Heading into the series, it was Tampa Bay — not Toronto — that was supposed to have the overwhelming edge in net. The Lightning were the ones with the Vezina Trophy winner, the playoff MVP, the guy was recently voted by the NHLPA as the goalie you’d want on your team for a must-win game.

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As for Campbell, a month ago he wasn’t even a guy Maple Leafs fans had wanted in net for the playoffs.

Goaltending has long been Toronto’s big question mark, if not its Achilles’ Heel, for most of the season. It had been so bad at times this year that the team was close to acquiring Marc-Andre Fleury at the trade deadline. Instead, Fleury went from Chicago to Minnesota, where he’s allowed 15 goals in five games.

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Coincidentally, that’s the same number of goals as Campbell has allowed in five games against Tampa Bay. The only difference is that Fleury isn’t facing shots from Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point on a nightly basis. Campbell has been. And though he has been far from perfect, as his 3.41 goals-against average and .895 save percentage would attest, he has been slightly better than Vasilevskiy has been in this series.

That being said, this hasn’t been a goaltending duel by stretch of the imagination.

Vasilevskiy hasn’t looked like the same goalie who won the Conn Smythe Trophy a year ago after leading the Lightning to back-to-back championships. So far, he hasn’t done to Toronto what Carey Price and Tuukka Rask and even Jonas Korpisalo did in previous post-seasons. Vasilevskiy was good in Games 2 and 4, but he’s allowed 17 goals in five games — two less than he gave up in the final two rounds of last year’s playoffs combined. 

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Twice, he’s allowed four or more goals. Three other times, he allowed three goals. On the other end, Campbell has been slightly better. He’s had three good starts and two bad ones. He hasn’t been stealing games or standing on his head. But he also hasn’t had to. More importantly, he hasn’t been to blame in the way that James Reimer or Frederik Andersen had been in the past. 

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That’s all you can really ask for from your starting goalie in the playoffs.

The Leafs didn’t really need Campbell to be a difference-maker. They didn’t need him to outplay Vasilevskiy. With the offence Toronto has at its disposal, they just needed him to keep Tampa Bay to three goals or less, make the saves that he was supposed to make, and to battle back when things inevitably went sideways. 

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So far, he’s been answering the bell in that regard. If he can keep it up, he has a chance at doing what no Toronto goalie since Belfour has done: reach the second round of the playoffs.

Either way, we’re learning a lot about the 30-year-old.

This is what a No. 1 goalie looks like. This is what you want. It’s not always stopping every shot. Sometimes, it’s more important to stop the bleeding. 

Campbell gave up five goals in a 5-3 loss in Game 2. But he rebounded with a 32-save performance in a 5-2 win in Game 3.

In Game 4, when he was pulled after allowing five goals on 16 shots, Campbell was arguably Toronto’s worst player. Two nights later, he might have been their best player in a come-from-behind 4-3 win that might otherwise have been another blowout.

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After giving up two goals in the opening six minutes of a pivotal Game 5, it would have been easy if head coach Sheldon Keefe had said he’d seen enough and pulled Campbell. Instead, Keefe kept him in. And Campbell repaid him by keeping his team in the game while the Leafs mounted an unlikely comeback.

This was a game that could just have easily have gone in a different direction. 

Tampa Bay was gifted a 5-on-3 power play in the first period. They didn’t score. They had a 5-on-4. They didn’t score. They had breakaways, odd-man rushes and point-blank opportunities. Had any one of them gone in, the game might have been over. Who knows, the series might have been too.

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“You look back on things and you can nitpick, it’s usually a bad omen when you have a 5-on-3 and you don’t score,” said Stamkos. “I always say that’s kind of a rule. It wasn’t for a lack of opportunities, but that can ice the game and we didn’t execute.”

They didn’t execute because Campbell didn’t allow them to. It wasn’t about the two goals that he let in at the start of the game. It was about not allowing two additional goals when the gave was up for grabs.

That’s what a Stanley Cup-winning goalie does. That’s what, according to Keefe, a “veteran goalie” looks like. 

From here, what it looks like is someone who is one win away from earning a contract extension.

That is, if Toronto can still afford him.

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twitter.com/Michael_Traikos

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