There were some interesting line combinations for the Toronto Maple Leafs at practice yesterday as the team readied itself to play Game 1 of the 2021-22 Stanley Cup playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lighting. It was reported that the combinations and defensive pairings at practice were as follows:
Forward Line Combinations:
Alex Kerfoot-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner
Ilya Mikheyev-John Tavares-Ondrej Kase
William Nylander-David Kampf-Pierre Engvall
Kyle Clifford-Colin Blackwell-Wayne Simmonds
Extras: Michael Bunting and Jason Spezza
Morgan Rielly-Ilya Lyubushkin
Jake Muzzin-T.J. Brodie
Mark Giordano-Timothy Liljegren
Extras: Rasmus Sandin-Justin Holl
The word from practice is that Ondrej Kase was a full participant. Both Michael Bunting and Jason Spezza were in regular jerseys but did not participate on lines. If this is any indication of starting lines tomorrow, it means Kase is in; that Bunting is close but not quite ready; and, that both Clifford and Simmonds will play over Spezza.
It is a bit surprising about excluding Spezza; however, the Lighting are a physical team, and perhaps Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe wants to counteract that physicality by playing both Clifford and Simmonds. It also might mean that Spezza has a tweak of an injury that we don’t know about.
It’s also noteworthy that Timothy Liljegren is in the first three defensive pairings and that Justin Holl is not playing.
Injury Note One: Michael Bunting Is Doubtful for Game 1
Although Michael Bunting did practice Sunday, it’s doubtful that he’ll play in tonight’s playoff opener against the Lightning. As noted above, Bunting was an extra during yesterday’s practice and he left the ice early.
The word from Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe is that he expects Bunting to play during Round 1 of the playoffs, but his leg injury doesn’t seem to be quite ready for game action.
Injury Note Two: Ondrej Kase Might Be Back
In a bit of a surprise, it looks as if Ondrej Kase might be back for Game 1 of the playoffs. Although the official word is that he’ll be a “game-time decision” for tonight, looking at practice might suggest something different.
Obviously, Kase is close to returning, but coach Keefe did not affirm that the Czech forward would be ready to play. That said, he skated with both Ilya Mikheyev and John Tavares at yesterday’s practice.
The last game Kase played was on March 19, which is like six weeks ago. Since that time, his concussion has kept him off the ice. On the season, Kase has scored 14 goals and added 13 assists (for 27 points) in 50 games.
Injury Note Three: Rasmus Sandin Will Not Play Tonight
Sadly, Rasmus Sandin’s wonky knee won’t allow him to play tonight. Again, Sandin was on the ice for yesterday’s practice, but he wasn’t part of the top three pairings.
Sandin practiced with Justin Holl, which might mean both defensemen will be scratched for the game.
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