Sheldon Keefe makes a surprising comment about the Leafs' playoff lineup with 8 games left to play

Dean Chaudhry
April 1, 2023  (9:29)

With a trip to the the playoffs locked up for the 7th consecutive season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are primed to enter the Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals with home-ice advantage in a rematch from last year's first round matchup against the very same Tampa Bay Lightning.

Toronto has 8 games left on the docket, have already clinched a playoff spot, and sit 4 points ahead of Tampa Bay for 2nd in the division and home-ice in at least the first round. Anything can happen in the next 8 games but the Leafs have a 4-point cushion, while also holding 2 games in hand.
Are the Maple Leafs ready to take down the Lightning and advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04? This might be their best chance in years - something that's been reverberated for years especially in matchups against Montreal and Columbus - with Tampa Bay not looking as spry as we've seen over the last 3 years.
The Maple Leafs loaded up ahead of the trade deadline as they acquired Ryan O'Reilly, Noel Acciari, Jake McCabe, Sam Lafferty, Luke Schenn, and Erik Gustafsson, while the Lightning's main priority was Tanner Jeannot. They still possess playoff experience in abundance, and they are a team you can never count out especially with Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal. They also possess an offense that can go toe-to-toe with Toronto's.
The Leafs are awaiting the return of their x-factor in Ryan O'Reilly and when asked about whether he had the possible playoff lineup already sorted out, even with O'Reilly sidelined, Sheldon Keefe said:
"I do, if the playoffs were to start today or tomorrow. But a lot can happen over (the final) 8 games, whether it's injury or performance. Until we have all the information, there's no need to solidify anything."

A coach having his playoff lineup already set in his mind, so long as injury and illness cooperate with his plans, shows a lot of mental preparation, as you'd expect from any coach this time of the year. His patience to wait out the final 8 games before setting anything in stone is also a pretty good indicator that Keefe remains very flexible, just in case his optimal lineup is not available to him.
Where O'Reilly slots back in is anyone's guess but it helps that he's so versatile and can play either the wing or down the middle. Before his finger injury he was playing with Mitch Marner and John Tavares, which could easily be re-hashed if Keefe is up for it. Currently, Marner is back with Auston Matthews and William Nylander has found himself back in the top-6 with John Tavares.
As Keefe said, anything can happen in the last 8 games but first and foremost they need O'Reilly healthy and back in the lineup before they can make any definitive decisions. A top-6 that features Matthews, Marner, Tavares, O'Reilly, Nylander is tantalizing but if they want balance and depth, they can go down the middle with a dangerous trio of Matthews as 1C, Tavares as 2C, O'Reilly as 3C.
Whatever Keefe and the Leafs decide to do, they have the slight upper hand with the former Conn Smythe winner making his way back into the lineup as they try to avenge their Game-7 defeat from last year.
1 AVRIL   |   209 ANSWERS
Sheldon Keefe makes a surprising comment about the Leafs' playoff lineup with 8 games left to play

Should the Leafs play O'Reilly on the 2nd line or the 3rd line?

3rd line C is the perfect spot11253.6 %
2nd line C with JT and Marner!5526.3 %
2nd line C with JT and Willy!4220.1 %
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