Sheldon Keefe has warned Toronto Maple Leafs the hardest step is still to come as they aim to eliminate Tampa Bay Lightning from the Stanley Cup playoffs in the first round.
(This article was originally published on 12.05.2022)
With a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference best-of-seven first-round series, the Leafs are 5/18 to move on to round two and 7/1 to go on and win the Stanley Cup championship.
The Leafs fell 2-0 behind in game five in Toronto on Tuesday, but fought back to win 4-3 and move to within one victory of dumping out the back-to-back champions.
Game six will take place in Tampa on Thursday with the Leafs aiming to win their first play-off series since 2004.
Keefe paid particular tribute to his team's top players after game five, particularly mentioning contributions by William Nylander (goal and two assists), Auston Matthews (game-winning-goal), Mitch Marner (the assist) and netminder Jack Campbell (33 saves).
Keefe, though knows the Lightning won't go down without a fight and, with last season's opening round defeat from 3-1 up against the Montreal Canadiens still fresh in the mind, the 41-year-old has told his team not to get carried away with their success in the series so far.
When a best-of-seven series is tied 2-2, the winner of game five holds an all-time series record of 219-58 (.791), including a 6-0 mark in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Keefe said to the media after the Game five victory: "This moment is now done and we take the experience and we take a look at what we've learned and the confidence to pull out of it.
"But, you've got to know what's ahead. You know it's going to be the hardest one, so we got to focus on the next one."