It is something fans feared throughout the first four games, and now it has become a reality. The Toronto Maple Leafs seem to be falling back into their old ways of the past. After a 7-3 loss at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the series now shifts to Toronto for game five in what seems like a must-win. Game four, a chance to take a commanding series lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Toronto Maple Leafs blew it. It was a terrible start to the game, but it also is a terrible day for the Leafs to play a playoff game on. The Maple Leafs are an awful 0-5 in their last five games played on Sundays dating back to 2017.
Going into Game five, the Maple Leafs will travel back to Toronto looking to win to before heading back to Tampa for Game six to hopefully close it out. Tampa will most likely bring the same energy they had in the previous game, which means Toronto will need to adjust their lineup to counteract the Lightning’s push. A few lineup changes were going into game three based on shifting, and I feel those changes can be readjusted based on them going home for a game. We could see the following changes at practice ahead of Game five, Wayne Simmonds could draw back into the lineup to provide a spark, and it could mean that Jason Spezza checks out of the lineup. We could also see Justin Holl coming out on defense for Timothy Liljegren, who was good in the first two games. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but some changes could potentially be needed to get the group engaged early in the game.
One key takeaway that happened in Game four was Nylander and Tavares reconnected and found the back of the net. Although it wasn’t the prettiest night for Nylander, the team needs those two to get going. As for Matthews and Marner, they were disengaged early in the game, and I feel that it is because of the shift rotation in the upcoming minutes of the first. Toronto should either start the Matthews and Marner line or play them in the second spot of the rotation behind the Kampf, Mikheyev line.
At one point in Game four, Auston Matthews had played approximately 1:42 through the first nine minutes, which is about two shifts for a player of his caliber which got him out of the game’s rhythm. Around the 9-minute mark, there was a penalty called on the Leafs, so Matthews sat for an extra two minutes, meaning in the first 11 minutes of the game, he played just under two minutes. In a game where they could have stolen two in Tampa Bay and closed it out on home ice in Toronto in Game five, they played their best player for just under two minutes because of the rotational structure set out by the coaching staff.
We all know that the offense essentially runs through Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, yet after the penalty kill, their superstar barely saw the ice. That needs to change drastically. With that being said, it doesn’t mean Matthews needs to play 24 minutes or more, but getting the Matthews line into the game as early as you can make a difference.