Q. (Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun): Sheldon, the reasoning behind your lineup changes tonight and do you feel you got everything from your lineup over the course of this series?
SHELDON KEEFE: I suspect you’re just asking about Johnsson coming in. That was an easy one for me simply because he felt ready and obviously with what’s stake here today, we wanted to have him a part of it. He’s an important player for us and he’s worked really hard to be ready to play. If he didn’t play today he likely would have played had we won and played game one of the next series so we figured we would use him today. In terms of what we got from our group, I think we had good performances from some people and we had a group of others that I didn’t think performed at their best. That’s pretty typical, it’s pretty rare you’d have everybody going. I thought we had enough out of the people that were important, obviously with the exception of the puck going over the line.
Q. (Chris Johnston, Sportsnet): Can you take us through your rationale or what you were you thinking as you kept Matthews, Marner and Tavares together a lot of the game and just balancing wanting to have it all on one line or balancing the lineup? Those kind of decisions?
SHELDON KEEFE: Well, we’ve found it difficult through this series to generate offence and get chances and I thought that our best opportunity to do so would be to have those guys playing together. Also that I liked Will in the middle when we made the change in game four and the fact that really, in games three and four in particular, our second line was getting outplayed pretty badly. All those things combined, I wanted to go with that today. Made the change to go back in the third period to it just to try see if we could tax their defence a little bit more and have some benefit there, but that didn’t seem to work either, so we went back to it.
Q. (Justin Cuthbert, Yahoo Sports): We’ve heard a lot from the players that they knew what to expect from Columbus in this series. After these losses and the reasons why, they’ve pointed out that they knew what Columbus was good at. Over the five game sample, I’m wondering what from Columbus did surprise you in this series?
SHELDON KEEFE: I would say that probably, and it’s not necessarily in this series, as we really broke down the video in preparing for the series and then watching them in the exhibition game, for myself that was the first time seeing them live, I had never coached against them. The biggest surprise for me I guess would just be their skill level throughout their lineup. There’s a lot of focus on their defence, Jones and Werenski, but they’ve got a really high skill level at forward. Obviously, Dubois is the game breaker for them, but a real high skill level and it doesn’t necessarily show up on the scoresheet for them all the time, but they’re really good in possession. They hold onto the puck, they can make a play, they put it to good spots, they play with good intelligence. Their forwards are really, really good in those areas of the game. And then obviously just seeing first-hand the fact that Werenski and Jones are as good a D pair as there is in the NHL.
Q. (Kevin McGran, Toronto Star): I know this isn’t really your department, more Kyle’s, but how close an eye will you be keeping on the Draft Lottery Phase 2 tomorrow night where you guys have as good a chance as anybody to landing that pick and, with that, perhaps change your mood right now if you got a game-changer like that?
SHELDON KEEFE: I’m obviously not focused on it one bit, but it’s the next thing on the calendar for us so I’ll be paying attention to it, but I’ll be thinking about this one for quite a while.
Q. (Mark Masters, TSN): Obviously it’s raw right now, but what do you think this young core can take from this experience in this series? What do you want them to learn from it?
SHELDON KEEFE: Yeah, Mark, it is raw. I think that for any type of question like that I’m sure there’s going to be ample time for me to answer that and probably give you a better answer. A more in-depth and insightful one. Right now, obviously I’m focused on tonight’s game and the disappointment of not getting this done and the series. Happy to answer any questions on that but anything beyond I think we’ll hold that for the next time I see you guys.
Q. (Jonas Siegel, The Athletic): What do you want your group to take from a season like this? Lessons moving forward.
SHELDON KEEFE: Same thing, Jonas. I’m sure there’s going to be ample time and I’ll answer every question everybody has. I know this whole experience has been difficult on everybody, but the media in particular with being able to get their questions answered and stuff. I’ll make sure that the next time we’re together I can answer all of those questions for where we go from here. Right now, obviously, my focus is on our disappointment of not being able to get this done and hats off to Columbus for the effort they put forth in this series. It’s a good team that doesn’t give you much, they stay absolutely fully committed into what they are as a group.
If I reflect on the series for myself, I think there was lots of positives in the series, there was lots of things that we would like to have done better, lots of things I would have liked to have done better. We really challenged our team coming into this to be better defensively, give ourselves a chance and not beat ourselves. I think when I look at two of our three losses, here tonight and in game one, I think we did a really good job of that and playing a patient game, not beating ourselves, not giving up much. The different in games one and five, obviously are three what I would call somewhat lucky goals and we didn’t get quite the same level of luck around the net. Columbus defended extremely well and didn’t give us a great deal, but we had enough chances to score more goals than we did with the two shutouts that we had. A little more luck and it might have been a different result. I’m not sure where it’s going to finish up, but we ended up shooting at about two percent at 5-on-5. For a team like ours to score on two percent of its chances, I think everybody coming into the series would say it’s pretty unlikely. That’s the way that it went.
Q. (Vipal Monga, Wall Street Journal): What sort of a coaching challenge was the five-game format after such a long layoff?
SHELDON KEEFE: I’m not sure the five-game format necessarily was the greatest challenge. Five or seven, obviously every game becomes more important and a little more urgency. Once you lose game one, you’re on alert that much quicker than you would be in a game during a seven game series. But I think the greatest challenge, of course, is just being off for so long and then coming together and having a two week training camp and then pretty much getting right into it. You can only focus on so many things in trying to get your game up to speed in so many areas. You’re not as prepared as you’d like to be over the course of an 82 game season. That said, I was grateful to have a chance to have a training camp with our team and I thought in the areas we wanted to get better in, in terms of our defence and our patience and our commitment away from the puck, we saw some really positive signs there. Obviously, not good enough.
MORGAN RIELLY AND JOHN TAVARES
Q. (Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun): For John, what happened to the offence tonight and in this series in general?
JOHN TAVARES: We know we’re playing a good, structured defensive team. Obviously, two goalies that had really good seasons. We knew it would be a challenge and obviously we have to find a way to break through. We had some good chances, some unfortunate breaks on a couple of chances and they do a good job really clearing the front of the net on second and third opportunities. We weren’t able to find some of those seconds today. I thought we generated good looks at times they pushed back well and they’ve got some quick forwards that can counter. They block a ton of shots but it’s obviously on us to find a way to break through that and come up with the results that we need.
Q. (Kevin McGran, Toronto Star): Morgan, can you sum up how disappointed you feel and is there any comparison to last year in Boston, that sort of thing? What’s going through your mind in these moments?
MORGAN RIELLY: It’s hard to put it all into words. It might take some time to digest a little bit, but it’s definitely a bad feeling, bad taste. Comparing to a loss in Boston, this one is different, for sure, for obvious reasons. Whether that makes it worse or easier to deal with, I don’t know, but right now it certainly feels like it’s harder to live with. I can’t really put all my emotions into words, I don’t have the vocabulary to do that.
Q. (Chris Johnston, Sportsnet): For John, I’m wondering on your chance in particular, the one that hit the post, how that developed in your eyes and what are you trying to do there?
JOHN TAVARES: Morgan made a great play, Mitch did a good job breaking into the middle, causing some confusion and I just tried to get it off quick, seeing Korpisalo was really sold on Mo shooting at him. He made a great pass, I saw Seth Jones right in front and obviously he’s a big dude, he’s got big feet. I just tried to keep it along the ice, along the short side. My hand slipped just a tad, got it maybe a little bit more on the heel than I wanted to but, in saying that, obviously a great opportunity that I want to finish. Still got good wood on it and unfortunately maybe it was half an inch, quarter of an inch too much to the right and it didn’t hit the post and go in or even just sneak in the right side.
Q. (Mark Masters, TSN): Morgan, wanted to get your perspective on why it was so tough to generate offence against the Jackets in this series?
MORGAN RIELLY: John just talked about it. Pretty much what he said. It’s the style they play, they’re very defensive and they’re great at it. Their goalies played well, their D did a good job of clogging up the middle.
Q. (Jonas Siegel, The Athletic): Morgan, what do you think you can take from a season like this given how strange and long and unusual it was?
MORGAN RIELLY: I think it just prepares you for the future. Obviously, we experienced things that we hadn’t before and some good, some bad. Very unusual if you look at the playoff format. I think it’s just experience that we can take with us. Obviously it’s not the end result that we were looking for but I think that we all had an opportunity to learn a lot about ourselves during the break and be able to reflect. It’s just an experience we’re going to have to take with us and learn from. Hopefully in the future we can draw from it at some point.
Q. (Dan Rosen, NHL.com): John, I’m thinking about some of your opportunities. Chris asked you about the one that hit the post, but you had a few others point blank. You look back on those, does it even surprise you a little bit that one or two didn’t get in the back of the net considering those chances and how grade-A they were?
JOHN TAVARES: Yeah, obviously I want to put them in. You do the best that you can. A couple of them, the one off the post, obviously, like I said, it’s less than an inch probably and it’s in. Just got to find a way to put that in. Had some good looks, goalie played well, but you’ve got to find a way to get through it and get the results you need.
MITCH MARNER AND AUSTON MATTHEWS
Q. (Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun): Auston, can you sum up what you’re feeling right now with the disappointment of going home a lot earlier than you guys expected to?
AUSTON MATTHEWS: I don’t know what to really say to that question, honestly. It’s obviously very disappointing, lots of mixed emotions going through all our heads right now, but obviously very frustrating.
Q. (Kevin McGran, Toronto Star): Mitch, I’m not saying this had anything to do with the outcome, but I’m really curious when you look back how did it feel really to play without any fans? Did it affect the intensity level at all or joy or anything along those lines?
MITCH MARNER: No. Honestly, I didn’t think I really noticed it or our team noticed when we were playing.
Q. (Mark Masters, TSN): Mitch, what made it so hard to generate offence 5-on-5 in the series against the Jackets?
MITCH MARNER: We talked about it from day one, they were doing really well holding the middle. We knew when they get their leads they lock down the neutral zone. I thought we had some chances that just didn’t go in.
Q. (Jonas Siegel, The Athletic): What do you think you can learn as a group from a season like this?
AUSTON MATTHEWS: I don’t think anybody’s really played through a season quite like everybody went through with the pause and everything. I think there was a lot of ups and downs and obviously this is more of a frustrating way to end it. I thought at times in the season we showed a lot really good things, a lot of resilience from our group. Tonight obviously it’s a game of inches out there. Like Mitch said, we had some chances, puck didn’t go in the net and it’s a tough pill to swallow. It’s very disappointing.
Q. (Dan Rosen, NHL.com): Auston, admittedly I would understand if this is hard to think about at this time, but when you get into these games that are you win, you move on, you lose, you’re eliminated game sevens or game five in this case, is there any common theme that runs through your team of why it’s just that one little extra step is harder to overcome at this point?
AUSTON MATTHEWS: I don’t really have an answer for that question, to be honest.