TRAIKOS: Maple Leafs’ Campbell Not to Blame for Game 7 Loss to Lightning

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There was a time this year when Jack Campbell completely lost confidence. Where he couldn’t make routine saves. He couldn’t stop a beach ball if he tried.

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It happened in early March, around the time he missed a few weeks with a mysterious rib injury that took longer and longer to heal. And for a while, you weren’t quite sure if the Toronto Maple Leafs goalie wasn’t playing because he was injured or because he was afraid of hurting his team.

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That version of Jack Campbell wasn’t the one we’ve seen in a seven-game series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

And yet, it still wasn’t enough as the Leafs lost 2-1 in Game 7.

Like Frederik Andersen in 2018 and 2019, and James Reimer before him, Campbell once again failed to get the job done in an unmissable Game 7. He couldn’t outrun Andrei Vasilevskiy, just as he couldn’t outrun Montreal’s Carey Price a year ago.

But that doesn’t mean he – and the core members of this Leafs team – shouldn’t get another chance to do it again.

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Campbell, who played this season not knowing if his next contract would come from – or where – passed the test, even if he didn’t pass the Leafs in the first round. He deserves an extension. Based on the way he’s defended against Vasilievskiy for most of this series, you could even argue that the 30-year-old deserves a raise.

That will be one of the many questions GM Kyle Dubas will have to answer in yet another off-season of uncertainty. That is, if Dubas is still the one running things. Anything can happen after the team failed to reach the second round after six consecutive years of qualifying for the postseason. What shouldn’t happen is letting Campbell walk.

The Leafs have several unrestricted free agents pending, including Ilya Mikheyev, Jason Spezza and Mark Giordano. But the most important of them is what fans call “Souuuuuuuup”.

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Scroll down the list of reasons why Toronto didn’t make it past Tampa Bay and you won’t find Campbell’s name anywhere. He answered the buzzer, recording a shutout in Game 1 and recording an average of 3.33 own goals in his first six games. Even when he was pulled out in Game 4, he bounced back with a courageous performance of 32 saves in a crucial Game 5 win.

In Game 7, the stakes were higher. And once again, he didn’t give up.

The Leafs didn’t need Campbell to get upside down or steal a win. They just needed him to keep them in the game like he did throughout the series. He did just that, stopping 23 out of 25 shots. But unfortunately for the Leafs, the goalie on the other side of the ice was a little better.

This series had not been a goalkeeper duel. Far from it, in fact. Going into Game 7, the two teams combined for 44 goals in six games. Most of it had to do with the quality of the talent up front rather than the quality of the goalkeepers.

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After all, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos can make even the best look ordinary.

That changed in Game 7. After six subpar games, you know Tampa Bay’s Vasilevskiy would show up exactly as Price did when Montreal’s back was against the wall against Toronto last year. Vasilevskiy, who was last year’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner, is so good, that clutch. After all, in a recent poll of NHLPA players, he was voted the goalie you want in a mandatory game.

The real Vasilevskiy came to play on Saturday. This was the first game in which he did not allow three or more goals. This was the first game where you saw the goalie who won the playoffs MVP last year.

Vasilevskiy was fantastic from the start, stopping John Tavares and Marner at close range opportunities in the first period. Even when the Leafs beat him, Vasilevskiy enlisted the help of the referees, who beckoned a crucial second-period goal by Tavares for an illegal pick that could have changed the outcome of the game.

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Meanwhile, Campbell did his best to keep the strong. He didn’t allow any soft goals or make any mistakes. But he wasn’t perfect either. And tonight, the Leafs could have used perfection.

Tampa Bay scored first when a shot by Ross Colton deflected Morgan Rielly’s bat and nearly eluded Campbell, who made the save but gave Nick Paul a juicy rebound for his first of two goals of the game.

After Toronto tied the game on a tic-tac-toe play from Marner to Matthews to Rielly, Tampa Bay made it 2-1 with another goal from Paul, who deflected TJ Brodie before deflecting Campbell.

In the third period, Paul almost scored a hat-trick, when he came running across the wing and towards the net. In the process, he was pushed from behind and into Campbell’s leg. The puck was out and Campbell remained in the game.

Once again, he kept Toronto at arm’s length.

In other words, he did his job. But tonight, few of his teammates could do the same.

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twitter.com/Michael_Traikos

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