What are the players are saying?
Joshua Kloke, Maple Leafs beat writer: As to be expected, there’s excitement over the opportunity to finally play in front of fans for the first time since March 2020.
“It’s great,” Joe Thornton said. “It’s been a long time coming. A lot of vaccinations rolling out and I can’t wait for more people to start coming into this building. I know it’s only (550 people), but hopefully, we’ll build off this and continue to get more people going forward.”
“I think it’s just a great sign for where we’re headed in society,” Jason Spezza added. “I think it’s a great way to recognize the health care workers for all the hard work that they’ve done to get us to this point. And then as players, obviously you enjoy playing in front of people.”
What can we expect in Game 7?
Kloke: This is undoubtedly the biggest game in a generation for the Leafs. After suffering two Game 7 losses in the first round (2018 and 2019), this team, which is more talented, should be better prepared to handle the challenges of a deciding game against their historic rivals. Toronto’s best players, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, have not produced as much as expected in this series and will be under a microscope.
The game itself could be defined by which team has the better start. Montreal has out-skated the Leafs early in Game 5 and 6, forcing Toronto to come to life in the third period. When the Leafs applied their possession-heavy approach from the start of Game 2, 3 and 4, the Canadiens didn’t have a lot of answers.
While 550 fans might not allow for the noise that the 2,500 fans did in Montreal, the Leafs are still hoping their fans provide a boost.
“It’ll be nice to have their presence in the building tonight, in terms of the game,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “It will increase the energy in the building.”
(Photo: Mark Blinch / NHLI via Getty Images)