Maple Leafs performance in Game 3 proves Dubas has assembled a superb team

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TAMPA — The idea of ​​firing Kyle Dubas as general manager of the Maple Leafs if they don’t beat the Stanley Cup champions in the first round of the playoffs is part of what life in the crazy is sometimes like. Toronto Hockey League.

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Never mind the logic – never mind how this series ends. Logic and Leafs Nation have not always belonged to the same phrase.

The idea though – that someone should pay not to eliminate the Tampa Bay Lightning in a best-of-seven series – and that someone be one of team president Brendan Shanahan, GM Dubas or coach -chef Sheldon Keefe – gets to the point of being rather ridiculous.

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And it looked even more ridiculous after Game 3 here at Amalie Arena, where the Maple Leafs took a 2-1 series lead with a hard-fought, very close and at times impossible to explain victory over the Lightning 5- 2. The truth is, no matter how this streak ends, this is a great Leafs team. It’s the most complete Leafs team after 1967. It’s a team worthy of applause.

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And if you’re Dubas, President Shanahan’s hand-picked choice on Friday night was reason to be more than happy with your team but quietly happy with your own work. Dubas is not the kind of general manager who looks up to me. He may have had that “I’m smarter than you” attitude during his early years with the Leafs, but the embarrassing playoff losses of the past two seasons have somewhat humiliated him.

Dubas made the deal for Jack Campbell when Frederik Andersen was still the No. 1 goaltender with the Leafs. Campbell was still a giant on Friday night: If he doesn’t make the case for Campbell, ditching the impressive Trevor Moore in the trade with Los Angeles, where would the Leafs be in their most important position?

It was a night for the Leafs, a night for Dubas, a night for Coach Keefe. A night for Jack Campbell.

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Toronto took a 2-0 first-half lead after just 6:35 of play in a noisy, hyperactive Amalie Arena on an improbable 3-1 goal. Ilya Lyubuskin, the defender Dubas traded to get rid of the semi-impressive Nick Ritchie, ended up leaving the penalty area and in the running. Lyubuskin, not known for his puck skills, waited just long enough and found fourth line Colin Blackwell in the crease for the second goal.

Blackwell was the secondary piece in the Mark Giordano trade made by Dubas just before the NHL deadline. Blackwell was supposed to fit in somewhere – but neither Dubas nor Keefe – knew exactly where. Scoring goals was not planned. Not thanks to an assist from a defenseman the Leafs acquired on short notice.

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That’s what good CEOs do. They find a part. They find parts. Drafting Auston Matthews was easy. Anyone could have done that. Signing Michael Bunting, the NHL’s top rookie: There’s some skill in that.
A skill for the GM. A skill for the trainer. They may not always be on the same page – no GM and coach ever is – but Keefe took the parts given to him and mostly made something of them.

The Leafs took a 3-0 lead early in the second period in a game that didn’t look like a 3-0 game on a David Kampf goal, his second of the series. For a guy who’s not supposed to score goals. He was a free agent signed by Dubas last summer. Like Blackwell, like Lyubushkin, Kampf was a player no one in Leafland was cartwheeling on.

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He ended up using his length and speed to enter what looked like a 2v1 on the great Andrei Vasilevskiy and for the second time in three games his wrist shot beat the world goalkeeper. His breakaway in the opener beat Vasilevskiy high. His semi-breakaway in Game 3 beat Vasilevskiy on the stick side.

It was the David Kampf who scored an NHL goal last season in Chicago. The guy who couldn’t score — but the day he signed with the Leafs, an NHL coach texted me to say the Leafs made the signing of the day. Why, did I ask? Because he can do so much defensively and the Leafs are going to rely on him. And so they have.

More defensively than offensively. Then this series started. Matthews may have been bitten by opportunities on Friday night, but Kampf cashed in on the one that mattered most.

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And Coach Keefe, who changed his roster, without dressing Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford, and adding Jason Spezza to the roster, worked in his favor. So did his in-game shuffle. Keefe pulled Bunting off the front line in the second half of the third period and moved Alex Kerfoot to the front line. He then returned to his favorite third line – Kampf centering Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall – all Dubas acquisitions or draft picks.

Engvall moved on to the hugely improved Mikheyev for his second goal into an empty net. The Leafs lead the series 2-1. All discussions about firing anyone can be put on hold.

For the time being.

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