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Maple Leafs make significant lineup changes ahead of Game 3 vs. Lightning

·2-min read

Sheldon Keefe evidently left Toronto unsatisfied.

After a misfire in Game 2 versus the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Toronto Maple Leafs head coach has prepared near-wholesale alterations to his lineup for Game 3, with only the No. 1 line and top-four defensive pairings remaining unchanged with the chance to take back the series lead.

Most notably, William Nylander and John Tavares will reunite on the second line, with the tandem expected to be flanked by Ondrej Kase, who missed practice Friday. Nylander and Tavares have had virtually no five-on-five overlap over the last month after their partnership seemed to grow stale, but they have spent the majority of the season on the same unit.

John Tavares and William Nylander will be reunited for Game 3 against the Lightning. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)
John Tavares and William Nylander will be reunited for Game 3 against the Lightning. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

Toronto's third line will now feature two previous top-six fixtures, with Ilya Mikheyev and Alexander Kerfoot filling in the wings for David Kampf. This is a group that has played together only sparingly, however Kampf has had a reasonable amount of usage with each.

Finally on the fourth line, Jason Spezza will make his 2022 postseason debut in place of Wayne Simmonds. He'll slide into a right wing position alongside Pierre Engvall and Colin Blackwell. This is a demotion, of sorts, for Engvall, who had been playing a fairly sizeable role and function on the third line for most of the last month.

Keefe also had the opportunity to reinsert Kyle Clifford, who was suspended one game for a late hit early in Game 1, but has prioritized skill and scoring ability over toughness with Spezza in the lineup.

The most polarizing move, however, is inserting Justin Holl in favour of Timothy Liljegren on the third pairing. While Game 2 wasn't particularly a strong game from Liljegren and partner Mark Giordano, the two have played a major role in revamping what was an incomplete defensive corps.

Holl has struggled from the outset of the season and with most partnerships tried out, but he does have plenty of experience killing penalties. That skill has been proven to be more important than perhaps either team had prepared for with so many minors called in the series.

Holl and Giordano have logged just short of 46 minutes together at even strength since Giordano was acquired at the trade deadline.

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