The Toronto Maple Leafs placed fourth in the NHL this season. Fourth in the Eastern Conference. Second in the Atlantic Division. 13 points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning, their first round opponents.
An excellent regular season. Fantastic stats. Almost everyone played above expectations. They entertained, frustrated, and exhausted us. The season is over. The post-season has begun, and they did all three of those things to us in sixty minutes tonight.
They took to the ice with multiple Stanley Cup winners in the line up, up against a team that saw the Finals three years in a row, taking home two trophies.
And out they come! To an icing call. The excitement starts early. Then, the goals being. The fourth line is out against the Lightning's fourth line and Zach Aston-Reese tries to clear the puck from the Leafs end, but it goes into Corey Perry's feet who takes it behind the Leafs net, gets it out front to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and the Lightning take a 1-0 lead in the first 90 seconds.
Maple Leafs playoff hockey!
Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews team up to try and tie the game, but a deflection knocks it above the net and out of play. They team up again, but can't get it done. The Lightning take the puck after it bounces off Marner's stick, but no goal there. They go out and back in, and there's a second goal for the Lighting off a rebound when Anthony Cirelli buries it.
With all of the talent on these teams I assumed they'd be high scoring affairs, but so far Andrei Vasilevskiy has been on top of his game, stopping multiple Leafs including Mark Giordano.
Jake McCabe gets the crowd on their feet with a big hit, but then gets called for high sticking after getting caught up behind the Leafs net, with Corey Perry doing an excellent sell job.
The first power play of the series goes to Tampa Bay. The Maple Leafs penalty kill breaks up the Lightning's first attempt to set up their passing lanes, but they regroup and Corey Perry gets a slapshot out, but Samsonov makes the save. There are some close called, but the penalty is killed.
The Lightning are doing an excellent job in their own end, the Leafs are struggling to get shots on net from anywhere but the point and perimeter. Vasilevskiy isn't being tested too hard so far.
While the Leafs aren't the stronger team like we expected, somethings are the same from the regular season:
The Maple Leafs just can't get close to the Lightning net, but they're making the most of the chances the do get.
As the clock ticks down in the first period, the Maple Leaf are inching the shot counter closer to even, and playing a more physical game. They aren't getting the crowd on their feet for goals, but hits on the boards and in open ice are getting the crowd back into the game.
Another powerplay for the Lightning comes with less than a minute remaining in the first period, when TJ Brodie is called for holding Steven Stamkos.
The penalty kill isn't as effective this time around, as Nikita Kucherov scores with three seconds left in the first period to send everyone back to the dressing room with the Lightning up 3-0 20 minutes into the first round series.
The bad news about the start of the second period is that the Leafs are still down 2-0. The good news is Victor Hedman is off the Lightning bench and in the dressing room. Would be a shame if he sat out the rest of the game.
The Leafs don't take advantage of this right away, and have to make up for some defensive slips, like Luke Schenn giving up a two on one, but thankfully Morgan Rielly stops the play.
The Leafs are playing the Lightning just as hard this period, if not more. Good hits, and finally, a penalty is called against Tampa.
The power play is just what the Leafs needed, with some good passing, and proper set up, Toronto gets the crowd on their feet with a power play of their own.
3-1 Tampa Bay.
The joy doesn't last long, as Luke Schenn is called for cross checking Ross Colton in front of the Leafs net. An incredibly weak call.
The Maple Leafs are disrupting the Lightning power play this time around, blocking passing lanes, dumping out the puck and Mitch Marner even gets a little breakaway. He doesn't score, but it was nice. The PK work is very physical and does a great job dumping the puck and blocking shots and the crowd is heavily into this game.
After Schenn is out of the box, Ross Colton is called for slashing Morgan Rielly. Second man advantage for the Leafs. The Leafs power play isn't as fast paced as the Lightning's was, but they hang on, take their time to set up, and with seconds left, the second unit scores to cut the lead to one.
William Nylander, and it's 3-2 Lightning.
Jake McCabe makes a hit on Mikey Eyssimont and Nick Paul chases him up and down the ice goading him into a fight, but no gloves get dropped. The Lightning get a power play on a slashing call to David Kampf while everyone is looking at McCabe.
Lightning score quickly on this one.
Brayden Point. 4-2 Lightning.
Michael Bunting hits Erik Cernak, and initially gets called for interference, but it gets revised to a five minute major and match penalty for a hit to the head. That sounds familiar. The Lightning will be on the powerplay for the rest of the second period.
The Bunting penalty killed the mood in Scotiabank Arena. Went from a crowd on it's feet, to dead silent as the creeping dread Leafs fans feel every playoff slowly envelops 19,000 people.
Corey Perry scores after two minutes of power play time. Mashes it into the side of the net. The play is under review, as it isn't completely clear that the puck crosses the line, but some time and angles confirms it crossed the line.
A coaches challenge is initiated by the Leafs for goaltender interference, a show of keeping the fight going by Coach Sheldon Keefe. The Leafs lose the challenge and are given a bench minor for delay of game, served by John Tavares.
Score is 5-2 Tampa as they head into a 5-on-3 penalty kill to end the second period.
The Maple Leafs almost make it out of this alive, but Brayden Point scores with 0.1 seconds on the clock.
6-2 Tampa Bay after 40 minutes.
Third period starts with more personnel changes. Joseph Woll takes the Maple Leafs net, and Erik Cernak and Mikey Eyssimont are not returning to the game.
The pace of period three is slower to start, but it looks up a bit when Mikhail Sergachev is called for a minor penalty against Sam Lafferty.
The Lightning penalty kill is doing a good job discombobulating the Leafs, they can't set up properly and passes get out of the offensive zone. No goal for the Leafs. Still 6-2 Tampa after five minutes.
But after seven minutes it's 7-2 for Tampa Bay. This one is long gone from the Leafs control.
Just as I get super defeated, Calle Jarnkrok scores for Toronto, the crowd gives him a big cheer but they aren't as into it as they were half an hour ago.
7-3 Tampa Bay.
I'm slowly slinking into my sofa, but the Leafs top line is still out there trying to reduce the Lightning lead. Matthews and Marner each get a chance, but nothing much is getting past Vasilevskiy tonight.
Joseph Woll is at least keeping the Lightning from getting another goal.
Anthony Cirelli is called for tripping Auston Matthews. The make up calls are coming hard and fast now that the game is out of reach.
They don't score. It wasn't an awful power play, but it just didn't score. The Leafs forward don't give up as we get through the final two minutes of the game, but the crowd has mostly left to get the early lakeshore trains out of town.
The Tampa Bay Lightning win game one of the first round series 7-3, and take a 1-0 lead. This was always going to be a tough series for the Maple Leafs two win, but I would have preferred a much closer loss than a four goal gap.
Questions for game two:
- Will Samsonov come back to start?
- Will Michael Bunting get a suspension?
- Will Matthew Knies draw in or will we see the 11-7 formation make a post-season appearance?
- Will we see more or less than the 12 total penalties called tonight?
Answers to that and more will come soon.
Game two is Thursday night, 7:00PM. Sportsnet, CBC, however you want to watch.
See you there.