The MarLeafs' rematch against the Lightning had the potential to go horribly wrong. It could be argued that the element of surprise played a large factor in their previous successes, but this was their first test against a team who had seen the kids before and knew what to expect. They came out of it with two points and a handful more Leafs firsts.
The Leafs kicked things off with a fast-paced first period that was full of intensity. While the number of actual shots on goal was fairly low, both teams had some high-pressure zone time and a couple of close chances. The crowd at the ACC even got into it enough to groan at some of them.
The only lull in the period came from yet another too many men penalty on the Leafs but even then Jake Gardiner took the puck end-to-end on a shorthanded opportunity.
One guy is starting a "we want Stamkos" chant at the ACC.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) March 15, 2016
Yup, still Toronto.
Tampa Bay earned themselves a power play in the first minute of play so I was braced for yet another early goal. Victor Hedman came dangerously close with an audible post off the post, but Toronto survived unscathed. Grabner had a fruitless shorthanded opportunity, and Hyman looked like he was going to do something exciting alone in Tampa's zone but turned the puck over.
As the game approached the halfway mark, Gardiner sent a great pass out to Holland in the neutral zone. Holland came close but couldn't beat Vasilevskiy.
I was coming to the conclusion that this might end up one of the fastest yet most boring games since the trade deadline when Connor Carrick finally sent the puck over Boyle and under Vasilevskiy's arm. He was clearly ecstatic about his first NHL goal in over two years.
That was about it for second period excitement. The Leafs managed a couple more power plays, including a tripping call on Future Leaf Captain Steven Stamkos that continued into the third period.
Morgan Rielly caught everyone's attention when he split the Tampa defence on the power play, but lost control of the puck before he could shoot it. Between, Gardiner, Holland and Rielly I started to think Michael Grabner might be contagious. Rielly got hit from behind as that play ended, so the Leafs had an extended power play opportunity. Unfortunately, Vasilevskiy was up to the task and so was his crossbar (Holland's second almost-but-not-quite of the night).
Words I did not think I'd be writing tonight: Peter Holland fought Steven Stamkos. Holland objected to a check Stamkos dealt him and managed to wrestle Stamkos to the ground. On the ensuing Lightning power play (mercifully without Stammers, who was in the box as well), it was Bernier's turn to hold up under pressure.
The Leafs had been pretty even with the Lightning in the first two periods, but the Lightning didn't let up after their power play was over. Eventually, Boyle cashed in.
Not long after something happened to Komarov and he was off down the tunnel. He tried to come back later in the period but was done for the game. It looked like his foot or ankle - hopefully he's not out for long.
Tampa continued to press. Marincin managed to get the puck out for a brief respite but it certainly looked as if the next goal was going to come from Tampa Bay. So of course Ben Smith scored his first goal as a Leaf.
Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 16, 2016
(Per Mirtle they really did play Bennie and the Jets in the arena. A+ move, arena ops!) Milan Michalek registered his first Leaf point with the secondary assist on the goal.
Ryan Callahan put an open ice hit on Zack Hyman. Parenteau didn't like it and suddenly there was a knot of players in the middle of the ice. With about two and a half minutes left in the game both players were given two minutes. The Lightning pulled Vasilevskiy and the Leafs were again pinned into their zone. All of your attackers in the offensive zone and nobody back isn't the safest way to play with an empty net and the Leafs made the Lightning pay twice.
Ben Smith with his second point of the game and Marincin with his first of two assists
Parenteau from Hyman and Marincin and that was most definitely it for the Lightning. Leafs win!
- I'm always nervous when my opinion matches that of the commentators, but I thought Martin Marincin seemed to have a good game, both offensively and defensively. He got the puck out of the Leafs zone pretty consistently, stepped up to keep it in the Lightning zone at least once, and had the first multi-point night of his career.
- Brooks Laich's mum was at the game! It's always nice when family is at some milestone game but when her son's been a hockey player that long and she shows up to just a random home game, that's love.
- Andi Petrillo hosted the TSN panel tonight, which I thought was awesome. I still didn't listen to most of it because that way lies madness but it's nice to see the new host of Leafs Lunch continue to get props.
- Holland's going to score another goal again this season, right?