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The Maple Leafs Will Go as Far as Jack Campbell Takes Them

Going up against a star goaltender in Andrei Vasilevskiy isn't easy, but Jack Campbell was up to the task in Game 1. He's going to have to do a lot more of that in the days to come.
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Jack Campbell spent the night before the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs enjoying what he described as a "relaxing evening with the cats". 

His girlfriend cooked him a tasty chicken breast as the two turned to Netflix for some mindless entertainment before Campbell would dive feet-first into the playoff pressure cooker less than 24 hours later. Instead of opting for "something funny" as he initially told reporters following Sunday's practice, Campbell dove into the final season of "Ozark", arguably the most violent show on television in which any character, at any time, could meet their end. 

As it turns out, it was exactly the precursor Campbell needed for his team's upcoming playoff series. 

The Maple Leafs played about as close to a perfect hockey game as you'll ever see on Monday night. And Campbell was no exception. After a rocky midseason stretch that saw him battle nagging injuries and subpar play, Campbell quelled most of the uncertain noise surrounding his ability to lead the Maple Leafs on the sport's biggest stage with his first-ever postseason shutout, a 23-save blanking of the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions. 

Campbell's workload wasn't massive in game one, with the Leafs doing a remarkable job of limiting the Lightning's chances and forcing their shooters to the outside. 

Heat map courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com

Heat map courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com

But as the penalties began to rack up and the game descended into the borderline violence Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe predicted it would, Campbell kept his composure, rising to the challenge when tested on a few grade-A opportunities that included, most notably, a marvelous glove save off the rush later in the third period. 

He wasn't the star of the show. But the jovial netminder didn't need to be. Campbell was nevertheless a crucial part of the Leafs' season-best performance on Monday, giving his team precisely what they needed as the stakes rose to their highest. 

At the end of his post-game scrum, Keefe made sure to make that fact known. 

"We've talked about a lot of things, and we haven't even talked about Jack Campbell tonight," the Leafs' coach lamented to reporters. 

"He was terrific." 

The Lightning has pushed a singular narrative in the hours following their opening game defeat, placing the blame for their listless performance on a number of self-inflicted wounds. It's not an entirely inaccurate assessment, either. Tampa's typically lethal attack was neutered up against the Leafs' defenders, while their blueline looked completely out of sorts and Andrei Vasilevskiy failed to track the puck in his own zone. 

It's unlikely that the Lightning will repeat these errors in game two. They're simply too good to come out flat once again, meaning that the Leafs must prepare to face a motivated team still stinging from embarrassment and looking for blood. 

That preparation starts with Campbell. And he knows that. 

"Obviously, they're the back-to-back champs and they've been in positions before," said Campbell of the Lightning on Monday night. 

"So, it's one game. We really liked the way we played. But we've got to get back at it tomorrow in practice, have a good day, and that's all we're focused on right now"

Campbell's performance in last year's playoffs mirrored much of what Frederik Andersen gave the Leafs during his time in Toronto. Campbell wasn't bad at all versus the Canadiens. He was quite the opposite, in fact, allowing just 13 goals through the series' seven games and finishing with a marvelous .934 save percentage. 

But it didn't matter. Facing a team that landed 18 points behind them in the standings and holding home-ice advantage, the Leafs ultimately lost a series they should have won. And Campbell, like Andersen before him, wound up as the second-best of the teams' two starters. 

It just goes to show how important his role truly is. These are the responsibilities of an NHL goaltender. 

For the Leafs to advance past the first round for the first time since Shrek 2 was romping through theatres (a modern classic, by the way) they need their netminder to outduel the challenger at the other end. That edge is crucial, representing the difference between victory and defeat -- especially when ti comes to a series in which the margins are so tight. 

On Monday, Campbell was the best goalie on the ice. Without question. And the Leafs reaped the rewards. 

"It's just infectious with each other," said Campbell of the impact that each player's performance has up and down the Leafs bench. 

"You see a guy sacrifice his body or make a great defensive play and break up their dangerous power play, and it makes you want to do your job even more. I think we were just rolling off of each other tonight and just trying to do the best we could for each other. And it paid off"

That, it did. 

For now, Campbell will have the chance to briefly unwind, grab his cats, and see what the Ozark finale has to offer. And based on where the plot is heading, Campbell assuredly wants to give Leafs fans a happier ending than what seems to be in store on screen. 

So far, he looks ready. 

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