The Toronto Maple Leafs were slated to begin a five-game Western road swing through Vancouver and Winnipeg on Saturday, but the Canucks long layoff due to a massive outbreak of COVID-19 has forced the NHL into a massive reschedule.
Originally, the Leafs were slated to play in Vancouver on Saturday and Monday, but those games have been shifted to Sunday at 7pm EST and Tuesday at 9pm EST. Toronto was then to move on to play the Jets in a critical three-game set on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, but one game was moved to the end of the regular season (Friday, May 14) and Wednesday’s game was moved to Thursday at 7pm EST.
The extra day may help the Leafs get their house in order after their third straight loss on Thursday. Toronto played without leading scorer Auston Matthews and William Nylander in the 5-2 loss to Winnipeg.
The lack of specificity regarding Matthews injury led to speculation that the Leafs star was given the night off because of “load management”, but it is hard to believe that the coaching staff and management would choose to sit their top scorer out against the second-place Jets with a chance to open up a seven-point lead for top spot in the North Division.
The Leafs could get both players back for Sunday, as the indications were that Matthews was day-to-day and that the only concern with Nylander (who was removed from the NHL’s COVID Protocol list on Friday) was being out of condition after being inactive for seven days.
With the dramatic uptick in COVID cases in Canada, the NHL is making contingency plans when the winner of the North Division reaches the semi-finals. According to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, the likelihood of the US-Canadian border being open and a seven-day quarantine not being in place will force the winner of the Canadian division to play in the US, and where they would call home would depend on who they are matched up with in the third round.
LeBrun speculates that if Toronto were to match up with the New York Islanders, then the Key Bank Center in Buffalo would make sense as a home for the Leafs if they faced Tampa Bay, Vegas or Colorado, then cities with vacant buildings close to the Lightning, Golden Knights or Avalanche would be selected.
Saturday marks the 70th birthday of Leafs legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Borje Salming. Salming played 16 seasons (1099 games) with Toronto from 1973 to 1989, was a six-time NHL All-Star and holds franchise marks for points, goals, assists, and plus/minus by a defenseman.
The native of Kiruna, Sweden established that European players could be stars in the NHL, and is only superseded by Tim Horton as the top blueliner in Leafs history.
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