Jake Muzzin had a defiant tone in his voice when asked how the Toronto Maple Leafs will rebound from a 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference First Round Thursday.
“We’ll be all right,” the defenseman said sternly.
Muzzin, who was a member of the Los Angeles Kings’ two Stanley Cup winners (2012, 2014), understands all too well the opportunity the Maple Leafs squandered. He also knows the importance of putting the loss in the past and looking ahead.
Toronto could have won its first postseason series since 2004 with a victory. Instead the Canadiens, the fourth seed in the Scotia North Division, narrowed the top-seeded Maple Leafs’ lead in the best-of-7 series to 3-2 heading into Game 6 Saturday in Montreal (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS) where 2,500 fans will be allowed to attend.
Muzzin scored twice in the third period to tie the game 3-3. But a giveway by Toronto forward Alexander Galchenyuk led to a 2-on-0 break that was finished off by Montreal forward Nick Suzuki 59 seconds into overtime.
Muzzin said the Maple Leafs’ struggles were symbolized by a sluggish first period that resulted in a 2-0 Canadiens lead on two goals by Joel Armia. Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored to made it 3-0 in the second period before Zach Hyman‘s goal brought Toronto to within two.
“They were desperate, and they won every battle,” Muzzin said. “We weren’t ready for it. We battled back.”
The slow start wasn’t the only issue for the Maple Leafs. Coach Sheldon Keefe said goalie Jack Campbell can improve but added the rest of the Maple Leafs have to do the same.
“We know he’s been playing at a real high level for us,” Keefe said. “And today, like our team, wasn’t his best. He’s earned the trust and the opportunity to bounce back.”
The four goals against were as many as Campbell had allowed in the first four games of the series.
“It’s tough to close a team out,” said Campbell, who made 26 saves. “They came out hard. I thought we pushed back. We played well enough to win the game. I can’t give up three in regulation.”
Toronto’s top two forwards, Auston Matthews (1) and Mitchell Marner (0), have combined for one fewer goal in the series than Muzzin himself scored in the third period.
Keefe remains confident the team can have success if it stays the course.
“We’re a good team,” Keefe said. “We look at the two games we lost, and we haven’t played nearly at our best yet both games were right there. When we have played well, we’ve been in control in the games pretty well, so we have lots of reasons to be confident, lots of reasons to believe in our group.
“At the same time, we got another reminder today that Montreal is going to be difficult, they’re a very good team, they’re strong at defending. That in itself gives them lots of belief.”