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Recap: Leafs scored like ninjas and then huddled like turtles to take it 4-3 over Tampa

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A penalty filled affair seemed in the bag until Jake Muzzin went down.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Tampa Bay Lightning
I mean...
Photo by Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images

It’s hockey night in Tampa!

I chose to do this recap to force myself to watch this team again. Leafs, you know what you’ve done, now don’t do it tonight.

The pregame is all about how gritty and grarty and tough and strong and big the formerly tiny little winger infested Lightning were. Congratulations, Tampa fans, you are the tough team this playoffs. Now you have to live up to it. Win it all and people will say you played heavy, lose and you’ll go back to being too small again.

The Leafs are now all about playing a sensible lineup in sensible ways, just for the fun of trying that out. Sand-Lily are getting a “trial by fire” on the third pair, and the third line doesn’t have any fourth liners on it. For a change.

First Period

Chug a beer every time someone calls the Lightning gritty, I dare you.

Denis Malgin skating in on Victor Hedman to pressure him behind the Lightning net is a balm to the soul after all that grit stuff.

How can you cover the NHL in the Atlantic and not be able to say Vasilevskiy?

The fourth line just rolls over Zach Bogosian the new, gritty defender on the Lightning. This is where you want a talented offensive defenceman to step up to take advantage, but Muzzin is the man on the spot. Good shift, though.

The Leafs look dialed in, but they didn’t get brain transplants, so they do give up rush transitions.

The wee tiny Brayden Point, skill guy (and we know what they’re like) Steven Stamkos and the 100% grit-free Nikita Kucherov put the Leafs through the spin cycle then do it again just for fun.

Time passes, there’s some meaningless, yet ironically gritty board battles between some of the smallest players on both teams, Andersen makes a save:

And then the Kerfoot line plus Sand-Lily gets stuck with the Stamkos line. This happens:

1-0 Lightning

Liljegren does a great puck-moving defenceman move to get the puck in play, and the fourth line is rocking tonight. Watch Spezza here. Muzzin with the point shot, proving point shots are good.

Tie Game

Hyman and Nylander have swapped lines for now.

LOL. Nylander with a fanned shot almost as bad as Hyman’s off the top of the game. He draws a penalty at the same time, proving hockey is weird.

Barrie has a Barrie moment when a pass gets easily picked off, but he recovers fast. The next time the Leafs get setup on the PP they... still don’t get a shot.

Time three gives us what we all deserve one way and another. A Barrie point shot proving point shots are good. Tavares tipped this one, and Spezza had the tip on the previous one.

2-1 Leafs.

Tampa gets gritty, and their grittiest man Pat Maroon dumps Liljegren behind the net, but it’s one of their new defensive acquisitions who takes a penalty on the next grit move. Kevin Shattenkirk, noted tough guy, of course.

The power play starts good, but a pass is broken up and the Lightning just take over. Their PK is better than our PP on this one. At offence, that is. This is new grit-men Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman putting on a skill clinic.

Thoughts

  • I don’t like Justin Holl. He’s not good enough to play the style of game he plays. I am unmoved by the poor millennial held back by the old boomer narrative. I really, really feel sorry for Justin Holl right now because he is going to be playing way over his head in some tough games down the stretch. Cut him some slack.
  • Everything about that period existed to debunk the size and grit narrative. Put the ruler away, ignore the big hits, and get good players. Good at all sorts of things. I’d love Blake Coleman on the Leafs, but not because of “sandpaper”.
  • The Heatmap! Both teams look a little less like all the shots are from the medium-danger zone if you include the PP where the Leafs were good and the Leafs PP where Tampa were good, but 5on5...

Second Period

The Tavares line gets absolutely stuck trying to exit their own zone under almost no pressure. Holl looks particularly like he needs a vacation on the third pair here.

Alexander “too many penalties” Kerfoot takes a dumb one behind the play. Lightning to the power play.

The Leafs PK well, and the Lightning pass really stupidly on this one, so the Leafs kill it fairly easily. That’s a relief because the scariest part of the Debacle in the SBA the other night was how bad the PK was.

Leafs do a dumb when the puck rolls to towards the bench, and Liljegren plays it. He causes a too much man penalty. But because it’s him, it’s a “rookie mistake” even though the Leafs do this a lot.

Nice shorty chance from... Jake Muzzin? ... starts off the Lightning PP.

Marner and Hyman get a two-on-one, again because the Lightning passing is really dumb.

On the other hand, the Leafs leave Stamkos alone in the slot and he gets to tee up on Andersen. Luckily it misses.

Once it’s five-on-five, the Lightning just dominate. They should try that on the PP in some other game against some other team. Andersen holds the line.

Okay, this period is half over and the Leafs have defended for most of it, often well, but still. Enough is enough.

Not quite sure how, but Andersen saves the day as the Kerfoot vs Stamkos matchup is just a tiny bit tilted to the Stamkos side.

The Lightning do an old-school cycle (the defenders stay on the blueline) and the Leafs just turn and watch and watch and turn and watch. Okay, Marner does that. Some of the other Leafs try but Sandin has his hands full with Maroon.

Tie Game.

Next up, the Tavares line get something going off a board battle by win by Nylander who was hanging in his office on the perimeter.

3-2 Leafs.

Kappy nearly adds one on a breakaway, which seem easy to come by tonight.

Shattenkirk takes another penalty, this time on Gauthier, and whoa, it’s a double minor on him. The rule is, buddy, if the Goat draws a penalty on you, you go to the AHL.

Woot! Nylander with a sweet, sweet goal after a good PP with a lot of fast puck movement. Watch this one more than once.

4-2 Leafs.

First part of the PP too, so there is two more minutes to go.

Matthews has a wide-open net, but can’t settle the puck fast enough. I can certainly see that Vasilevskiy has struggled this year. He looks very beatable at times even when it doesn’t go in.

The Leafs play out the period without doing anything Leafy, so that’s a win.

Thoughts

  • Being great on the PK is great, but stay out of the box, guys. Oh, and don’t give Stamkos free shots.
  • The second half of that period was far better than the first. And there was only 12:49 of five-on-five so the heatmap shows that the Bolts had the shot advantage, and the Leafs had the Expected Goals edge in that one:
  • Andersen helped the team survive the first half of that period, so how be we close this out?
  • Auston Matthews is kinda okay in the game. Mitch Marner is not even here other than on the PK.

Third Period

Um... What the hell is this?

I thought is was fake. Holy crap. It’s from a blocked shot right at the end of the period. There’s no Stamkos there either at this point.

Sandin takes a slashing call, so the stay out of the box advice didn’t take. Not a great start to filling the void, buddy.

Marner on the PK is great, as he’s been all game. On the PK. The rest of the time...

I don’t know why the Lightning suddenly have a terrible power play, but it is very terrible.

He came right back, out and we have to hope he’s fine. We can’t trust the process on head hits.

Justin Holl is our number one defender right now, though.

Oh, that’s ugly. Just watch it:

4-3 Leafs

The Leafs fourth line (who have been good) survive a shift very overmatched.

The Leafs could use some offence time here to give Freddie a rest and to pad that lead, instead:

Instituto Terra Reforests Barren Atlantic Forest Portion
The Leafs right now
Photo by Christian Ender/Getty Images

The Bolts were briefly without Brayden Point after he took a Bogosian shot that was, er, on point.

Andersen nearly puts it in his own net, I swear. Scary moment.

Stamkos is out for the game as well, although no one knows what happened there.

Sweet, a Nylander with Matthews shift turns into a good chance:

Kapanen is playing with Tavares and Hyman as the blender is on frappé now.

Bolts pull the goalie, and the big blue and white turtle looks mighty tired killing off this six-on-five. They’re giving it their all, though.

They hang on by the skin of their teeth to the skinniest of leads.

Thoughts

  • For all the Leafs scored four goals somehow, their offence was weak off the power play, and they defended the Stamkos line very poorly.
  • Freddie Andersen was great.
  • It’s a win! That’s all that matters. I read that somewhere.