Jack Campbell spent the night before the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs enjoying what he called a “relaxing evening with the cats.”
His girlfriend cooked him a delicious chicken breast as the pair turned to Netflix for some mindless chat before Campbell would dive feet-first into the playoffs pressure cooker less than 24 hours later. Rather than settle for “something funny,” as he initially told reporters after Sunday’s practice session, Campbell dove into the final season of “Ozark,” arguably TV’s most violent show, where every character meets their end at any given time could.
As it turned 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 Monday night. And Campbell was no exception. After a bumpy midseason streak struggling with nagging injuries and underplaying, Campbell quashed most of the uncertain noise surrounding his ability to lead the Maple Leafs onto the sport’s biggest stage with his first-ever shutout after of the season, hiding 23 saves back-to-back defending champions of the Stanley Cup.
Campbell’s workload wasn’t huge in the first game, as the Leafs did a remarkable job limiting the Lightning’s chances and forcing their shooters wide.
But as penalties began to mount and the game descended into borderline violence predicted by Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe, Campbell maintained his composure and rose to the challenge as he was tested on a few Class A occasions, including notably one Miracle glove save the rush later in the third period.
He wasn’t the star of the show. But that didn’t have to be the jovial Netminder. Campbell was nonetheless a crucial part of the Leafs’ season-best performance on Monday, giving his team just what it needed as the stakes soared to their highest level.
At the end of his post-game scrum, Keefe made sure to make that fact known.
“We talked about a lot of things and we didn’t even talk about Jack Campbell tonight,” the Leafs coach told reporters.
“He was great.”
The Lightning pushed a unique narrative in the hours after their opening game loss, blaming their listless performance on a series of self-inflicted wounds. It’s not a completely wrong assessment either. Tampa’s typically deadly attack was neutered against the Leafs’ defenders while their blue line seemed utterly out of whack and Andrei Vasilevskiy failed to track the puck in his own zone.
Lightning is unlikely to repeat these mistakes in the second game. They’re just too good to come out flat again, which means the Leafs need to prepare to face a motivated team still stinging with embarrassment and looking for blood.
That preparation begins with Campbell. And he knows that.
“Obviously they’re the champions back-to-back and they’ve been in positions before,” Lightning’s Campbell said Monday night.
“Well, it’s a game. We liked the way we played. But we have to continue in training tomorrow, have a good day and that’s all we’re focusing on at the moment.”
Campbell’s performance in last year’s playoffs reflected much of what Frederik Andersen gave the Leafs during his time in Toronto. Campbell wasn’t bad at all against the Canadians. He was quite the opposite, conceding just 13 goals in the seven games in the series and ending with a staggering .934 save percentage.
But it didn’t matter. Faced with a team finishing 18 points behind them overall and with home field advantage, the Leafs ultimately lost a series they should have won. And Campbell, like Andersen before him, finished second best of the team’s two starters.
It just shows how important his role really is. These are the duties of an NHL goaltender.
In order for the Leafs to get through the first round for the first time since Shrek 2 (a modern classic, btw) they need their goaltender to trump the challenger at the other end. That lead is crucial and makes the difference between victory and defeat – especially when it comes to a series where the margins are so tight.
On Monday, Campbell was the best goalie on the ice. Without question. And the leaves reaped the rewards.
“It’s just contagious,” Campbell said of the impact each player’s performance has on and off the Leafs bench.
“You see a guy sacrifice his body or put on a great defensive play and unravel his dangerous power play and it makes you want to do your job even more. I think we just broke up tonight and just tried to do the best we could for each other. And it has paid off.”
For now, Campbell has a chance to relax for a moment, grab his cats and see what the Ozark Finals has to offer. And depending on where the plot goes, Campbell is sure to want to offer Leafs fans a happier ending than what appears to be on-screen.
So far he looks ready.