Keefe backs Leafs' "core four" from haters after awful start to Panthers series
The Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t scoring many goals in the playoffs these days.
Toronto’s scored just five goals at 5v5 — and six in total — through three games against the Florida Panthers.
Most notably, though, none of Toronto’s goals in their only second-round playoff series since 2004 have been scored by the team’s “core four” forwards: Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and John Tavares.
The four take up a combined $40.5 million in cap hit for the team this season, but their offensive production hasn’t exactly been up to snuff against Florida.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe backed his players ahead of tonight’s Game 4, referencing the strong first-round performance against the Tampa Bay Lightning where the group averaged 2.17 goals per game. Matthews scored five goals, Tavares four, and Marner and Nylander two apiece in six games over the Lightning.
Core four for Toronto comparison-
regular season, 1st round, 2nd round.. pic.twitter.com/L7j1nnJDz7
— Meghan Chayka (@MeghanChayka) May 9, 2023
“The production and performance of these guys that we’re talking about and questioning, they’re the reason why we’re here, why we’re even playing when there’s only eight teams left,” Keefe told reporters today.
It followed up comments of Keefe’s yesterday where he initially showed his support for his star forwards.
“Those guys carried us offensively through the Tampa series,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “We’re here, playing largely on the backs of how they came through for us in those moments. They’ll come through for us again.”
And while there’s plenty of chatter about what the future of the team might look like, it appears the players themselves are at least trying to avoid it.
“Don’t focus on outside noise. Don’t focus on (…) anything on social media, like I’ve been preaching all year long,” Marner told the media yesterday. “And don’t listen to what you guys [reporters] are saying… we don’t care what you guys say; we don’t listen to you guys outside of this locker room. We’re just focused on ourselves.”
Game 4 between the Leafs and Panthers goes tonight at 7 pm ET.