Tortorella says criticism of Maple Leafs coach beyond belief


John Tortorella defended Sheldon Keefe one day after the Columbus Blue Jackets eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs from the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

Tortorella, the Blue Jackets coach, responded to criticism leveled at Keefe, the Maple Leafs coach, for decisions made during the best-of-5 series, won by Columbus with a 3-0 victory in Game 5 at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday. The Blue Jackets advanced to play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Game 1 is in Toronto, the hub city for the East, on Tuesday (3 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS).

The Maple Leafs have not won a postseason series since a seven-game victory against the Ottawa Senators in the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

“I just can’t get over people ripping Sheldon Keefe and his staff as far as the job he’s done with the Maple Leaf team,” Tortorella said. “They have done a terrific job with that team. Now this is after the series and all that, and some of the things I read, some of the things I watched last night, I mean, half the pundits in this city think they really know about the game, but they really don’t. And it just [upsets me] for a fellow coach in this league.”

Keefe played most of his 125 NHL games for the Lightning from 2000-03 with Tortorella as his coach. He was hired by Toronto to replace Mike Babcock on Nov. 20 following a 9-10-4 start and was 27-15-5 in 47 games. He coached Toronto of the American Hockey League to the Calder Cup in 2018.

“And I know it’s Toronto, a great city, a great hockey town, I love being here,” Tortorella said. “But some of the things he’s criticized for are beyond belief to me. And it just shows that people have no clue what’s going on in this game. So I just want to support him, I’m glad we won, but I just want to support him, and his staff have done a terrific job with that hockey club.”

The Maple Leafs (36-25-9, .579 points percentage) were the No. 8 seed in the East. They were one of eight teams (Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Winnipeg Jets) eliminated from the Qualifiers that had a 12.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, won by the Rangers, in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery on Monday.

Alexis Lafreniere, a left wing for Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, is the projected top pick.

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