With a playoff spot already clinched, the Toronto Maple Leafs have 10 games to prepare for the postseason, beginning with Tuesday night’s matchup against the visiting Buffalo Sabres.
It also means Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews has plenty of time to add to a goal total that stands at 58.
“(Clinching) with 10 games left, it’s really a sign that we’ve had an excellent regular season, and we’ve been preparing, acting and feeling as though we’re a playoff team for a long period of time here now,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said.
The Maple Leafs secured the playoff spot with a 3-2 home victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
Matthews scored twice within 27 seconds in the first period and has a chance to become the league’s first 60-goal scorer since Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2011-12 season.
“I think this season has had continued progressions for us,” Matthews said of the playoff berth, “and I think this last segment or so we’ve been playing some pretty good hockey and we just want to continue to keep that rolling.”
Toronto (47-19-6, 100 points) does not intend to coast through the remainder of the regular season.
“To have that (clinching) official speaks to the process and the work the guys have put in to this point,” Keefe said. “And then it also allows us to zoom in and focus even more on making sure our game is right and our team is prepared when the time comes.”
Erik Kallgren, who played Saturday, will be in goal again for Toronto on Tuesday.
“He is coming off a really good start, and also Jack (Campbell) is a little bit below 100 percent at this point, nothing to do with his previous (rib) injury,” Keefe said Monday. “A little bit below 100 is enough for us to give him an additional a couple of days.”
Ondrej Kase (concussion) will be out Tuesday, and Jake Muzzin (concussion), who practiced Monday, also won’t play because Keefe said he isn’t “100 percent.”
Matthews was given a “maintenance day” on Monday.
The Sabres (26-37-11, 63 points) are coming off a 5-0 away loss to the Lightning on Sunday.
“We struggled,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “We complicated the simple and we did not look like ourselves. Even the offensive stuff we generated, we had no sharpness and no execution. Uncharacteristic, but it’s a sign of fatigue and emotional drain.”
Buffalo has dropped the first three games of a trip that will end Tuesday.
“I just thought we sat back,” Sabres forward Kyle Okposo said. “I thought we just got tight, and I think that’s been an uncharacteristic thing for our team in the last month and a half.”
Buffalo has won two of the three games with Toronto this season.
Defenseman Owen Power, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, is scheduled to make his debut for the Sabres on Tuesday after completing his season with the University of Michigan.
Power met Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams and Granato on Saturday.
“The base message would be just be myself and play my game,” Power said. “Just get in here, try to meet all the guys and just get adjusted. Go out there and play and have fun. I know I’m obviously going to have to work to get in the lineup every night.”
–Field Level Media