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Toronto Stands Tall Against Tampa: Lightning 3 - Leafs 4

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In a measuring stick game, the Leafs stop slouching

Tampa Bay Lightning v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

First Period

[20:00 - 15:00]

Early on, it appears that Kucherov and Stamkos are separated, which I’m told has been a thing for a month or so now. Both teams are also very willing to play their depth early on. They’re treating this as just another game, which I suppose it is. Though for a team like the Leafs, it’s tempting to view this as a measuring stick.

This is also a big game for the Matthews line. They’ve struggled against the best teams in the league in recent weeks, and if he (and Nylander) want to be elite players, that can’t be a pattern that persists. Five minutes into the game, and they haven’t generated anything offensive. Neither team really has, but the Lightning have at least gotten a couple shots away.

[15:00 - 10:00]

The Leafs do finally get their first shot attempt on a Dermott point effort. It’s followed up by two of their stronger shifts of the opening minutes, and it looks like a more even game. Though ‘strong’ is relative. Largely, the two teams are cancelling each other out, and there are no real chances in either direction so far.

That changes with a strong fourth line shift. Kasperi Kapanen shows off some nifty hands in traffic, and it results in a Dermott point shot and a rebound that is brushed away just before a Leaf can get there.

[10:00 - 5:00]

Much stronger from the Leafs now, and I’m not sure how Marner didn’t score. A strong shift by the Kadri line sees Andrei Vasilevskiy scramble out of position, with Marner waiting at the side of the net. Marleau finds him, and Marner’s shot is miraculously blocked by Brayden Point. Phenomenal shift for that group, who are quickly making their case as the Leafs’ most dangerous group.

And as I say that, William Nylander reminds me why that title still belongs to the Matthews line. Matthews wins an offensive zone draw to Gardiner. Gardiner throws it at the net, but it’s blocked and falls at the feet of Matthews. With no hesitation, he fires it to Nylander at the faceoff dot, who shows the same haste in firing it into the net. 1-0 Toronto.

Tampa Bay responds strongly, after the Leafs surge. But as Nikita Kucherov chases a loose puck in the offensive zone, he gets a little too zealous and hooks Rielly. Leafs to the power play, with a chance to go two up.

It’s an inauspicious start to the man advantage, as Marner has a shot blocked, resulting in Tyler Johnson poking it by Morgan Rielly and heading in on a breakaway. Johnson tries to go five-hole, but Andersen reads it, and the Leafs still lead.

[5:00 - 0:00]

The rest of the power play expires without further incident, though I’m reminded of Connor Brown’s inability to play the ‘bumper’ role in the 1-3-1. Zaitsev interrupts my thought by tripping Kucherov, and the dangerous Tampa power play will get its shot to even the game before the first is done.

Kucherov sets up Stamkos for his trademark one-timer, but he uncharacteristically misfires. The Leafs catch a break. Tampa exhibits masterful control during the power play, but Andersen is making it look easy to thwart them. Tampa’s second unit is way less scary, at least in terms of the names, but they generate a strong chance for Point that Freddie deals with.

Kucherov is briefly reunited with Stamkos and Namestnikov in the last minute of the period, but aren’t able to generate anything in their time together.

The first period ends with the Leafs leading, and me being thoroughly entertained. The Leafs are playing well, and while it hasn’t been one-way traffic by any means, they’re good value for their lead. Of course, Tampa remains very dangerous.

Shot attempts are 18-16 for Tampa Bay, but 14-10 for Toronto at even strength. Both teams are getting to the front of the net, so I’d expect to see more goals the rest of the way.

Second Period

[20:00 - 15:00]

Tampa has a strong first shift, Toronto starts the Bozak group against Kucherov’s line. That’s not a matchup where the Leafs will come out on top very often. A few shifts later, Stamkos makes an amazing cross-ice pass to Tyler Johnson on a 3-on-2, and man, Andersen made it look trivial to save. That was a great chance for the Lightning, but Freddie looks dialled in.

The Lightning have dominated the opening minutes of this period. Toronto is just barely hanging on, and are having real issues leaving the zone.

But once again, the Matthews line shows their danger. After the Leafs are hemmed in for the first three minutes of the period, Nylander sneaks in behind the defence when coming onto the ice, Matthews finds him with a beautiful pass, and Willie makes no mistake on the breakaway. 2-0 Toronto. Marner picked up the secondary assist on that play, as the Leafs were midway through a change on that play. Might be the first goal where all of the Big 3 get a point.

That was a huge goal. All the early momentum was with the Lightning. The Leafs gave themselves a bit more of a buffer with that.

[15:00 - 10:00]

Tampa continues to attack, and the Leafs are still waiting for their first run of sustained pressure in this period. The Kadri line gets the Leafs going with some solid zone time, and the Matthews group follows up with some of the same. The Leafs might be a two line team now, but those two lines look goooooood. Though to be fair, the fourth line has done alright tonight too. The Bozak line has been brutalized though.

Tyler Johnson, who has been buzzing all night, walks into the slot after the Leafs assume the puck was cleared (it wasn’t). But true to his form tonight, Andersen stops him.

[10:00 - 5:00]

Everything’s coming up Willie right now. After a nifty give and go from Matthews and Nylander to get the puck out of their own zone, Nylander enters the zone and drops it back for Jake Gardiner. His snapper goes five-hole, and that line strikes again. Really cute play by Matthews in the defensive zone there. 3-0 Toronto.

I’m guessing Vasilevskiy will want that one back. Not up to his usual standard there.

This has been a good team performance, but the turd in the punch bowl so far has been the Bozak line. They compound that, as Bozak takes a lazy tripping penalty in the offensive zone. You can’t give Tampa’s power play chances.

They show why, as Stamkos rings one off the iron, and Kucherov forces a real nice save out of Andersen. I mentioned earlier that the names on Tampa’s second power play unit are not as starry as those on the first. At the same time, it’s still a ridiculous embarrassment of riches.

As the power play ends, Kucherov’s shot takes a deflection, and lands on top of the net. About an inch away from floating in. Big break there, and it’s still 3-0.

[5:00 - 0:00]

It doesn’t stay that way for long, and you have to say that this goal by Tampa was deserved. They’ve turned it on in the second despite the two Leafs goals. A nice toe drag by Point on a rush gets him into the slot. Andersen stops his shot, but not Killorn on the rebound. 3-1 Toronto.

It’s now big for Toronto to get into the third while maintaining their lead. Tampa has played very well this period, but the Leafs need to be able to hold out for a couple minutes. As I type this, Tampa is pressing against Toronto’s fourth line. Nervy stuff, as far as two-goal leads go.

van Riemsdyk makes his first real mark on the game as he first sets up Brown, streaking to the net. Brown puts it wide. Later in the shift, JvR has a nice zone entry and shot that Vasilevskiy adeptly handles.

The second period ends, and this one was definitely more in Tampa’s favour. Shot attempts in that frame were 22-15 Tampa at even strength, with the Bolts adding five more on their power play. Andersen has been great, as has the Leafs top line. The Kadri line had a worse second period than first, while the reverse was true of the fourth. The Bozak line has been ineffective throughout.

On the defence side of things, I’ve been pleased with the Leafs top four as a whole, and in particular, Jake Gardiner. Dermott is not having one of his best games, though it obviously doesn’t help that he’s playing with Polak rather than Carrick.

Third Period

[20:00 - 15:00]

Marleau nearly sets up Marner in front on the very first shift, which would have been really nice. Unfortunately, less than a minute later, Nikita Kucherov pounces on a loose puck in the offensive zone and rifles it by Freddie. Kucherov has been quiet, but like all great players, he just needs one chance. 3-2 Toronto.

Oh no! They tie it on the next shift! A Braydon Coburn point shot is deflected by Yanni Gourde, and all of a sudden, it’s 3-3. That was a very fast reality check, and the Leafs need to get their game back in order.

The top two lines are playing a bit more now, as you’d expect. Going to be a really interesting finish. Both teams look like they’re going for the kill.

James van Riemsdyk! I said before that great players just need one chance. I guess that rings true here too. Connor Brown Tyler Bozak shoots on a rush chance, and the rebound goes right to JvR. He bangs it, and it slips through Vasilevskiy. Big goal for JvR, and the Leafs. And for a Bozak line that has done nothing all game, that must feel amazing. 4-3 Toronto.

[15:00 - 10:00]

Toronto has their legs again, seemingly energized by the goal. Meanwhile, Auston Matthews does his usual puck control wizardry and sets up a Nylander snap shot, which he whistles high. A series between these teams would be awesome.

[10:00 - 5:00]

The Leafs have played a really solid game, all told. It’s been made especially impressive given how much of it has been 5v5. They haven’t racked up shots and chances with the man advantage.

Wow, a lot happening now. Kadri hits the post, and it seems half the Leafs thought it was in. When the play heads the other way, Point returns the favour. Close calls on either end, but the score is the same.

[5:00 - 0:00]

This has turned into another game where the Leafs need to defend a late lead, though this time, it’s not against a bottom feeder. So far, they’re doing a rather decent job of it. Morgan Rielly makes a great play to stop Yanni Gourde from making a power move to the net with about 3:30 left, and it’s all about letting the clock bleed if you’re Toronto.

The Matthews line gets a great shift in the offensive zone, and while they don’t generate any shots, they maintain control of the puck for a solid half-minute. Those types of shifts are invaluable when protecting a lead, especially when it comes against a guy like Steven Stamkos.

By the way, the Bozak line has had a MUCH better third period.

With just under two minutes left, the Lightning pull the goalie, and it seems like it’ll be 6v5 from here on out. And with two amazing saves from Andersen in the last 20 seconds, the Leafs pull it off. By and large, the Leafs handle the 6v5 as well as expected, but Kucherov and Johnson get two chances very late, and both times, Andersen seals the deal.

Leafs win!

Thoughts

  • Matthews and Nylander were the two best players all night. When that happens, the Leafs always have a shot.
  • Hyman was there too.
  • Freddie was his typical excellent self
  • The Kadri line started off strong, and had moments of danger throughout, but were eventually outplayed by Kucherov’s group. No real shame in that — they did reasonably well, despite the Corsi not showing it.
  • The Bozak line sort of did the opposite. They were invisible through two periods, but pulled it together with a strong third, including the game winning goal from JvR
  • Once again, Kapanen was the standout on the fourth line, but Leo has also looked really solid there. He’s an elite fourth liner, if such a thing exists.
  • Onto the defence... Dermott and Polak kind of got brutalized in shot attempts. Dermott is still obviously very green in his own zone, but he’s very involved offensively. Polak is Polak. What you see is what you get.
  • Hainsey had a brain-fart on the Kucherov goal, but he and Rielly were excellent otherwise.
  • Gardiner was offensively amazing, and defensively frail, and Zaitsev was kind of along for the ride, as far as I could tell.
  • That was a big, big win. The Leafs didn’t dominate the Lightning... not even close. But it was a closely contested game, and given that the Leafs often struggle with these elite teams, it’s a good sign that they can go even.