It was 4-1, and they had a 3-1 series lead. They haven’t won a series since 2004. You can take all those “jokes” and bury them. Forever.
The Leafs FINALLY slayed the dragon that was winning a playoff series for the first time since 2004. In the process of doing so, they came back from being down 4-1 with 10 minutes remaining in the third period. They had a 3-1 series lead, and they didn’t blow it, but most importantly, they won a freaking series.
Let’s not waste any more time. Who were the three stars of the game last night?
Tonight’s First Star
Ilya Samsonov – Let’s be honest here, the Leafs would not have won this game if it wasn’t for the stellar play of Samsonov; they simply wouldn’t have. Not only did he come up with key saves at key moments, but he also looked calm, cool, and collected while doing so. In the opening period, Samsonov faced ten shots and stopped all 10. Tampa could have easily had at least two goals heading into the intermission, but they didn’t. The second period came to a close, and once again, Samsonov faced ten shots, and he kept the door shut, giving the Leafs every opportunity to close this thing out. The Leafs took a 1-0 lead into the third period—20 minutes to go. 4:11 into the third period, however, Steven Stamkos finally broke through the armor of Samsonov, tying the game 1-1. By the end of the game, Samsonov stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced giving him a 0.969 save percentage in the biggest game of the year for the Leafs, and he was simply fantastic. Other than two games, Samsonov was simply the best goalie in this series; he outperformed the all-mighty Andrei Vasilevskiy, full stop.
Tonight’s Second Star
Auston Matthews – Number 34 was determined the second this game started. He was going to do whatever it took to ensure the Leafs didn’t need to return to Toronto for game 7 yet again. He was around the puck all night at both ends of the rink. He blocked four shots and was positionally sound all night defensively. He did that on top of having 11 shot attempts and scoring the only goal for the Leafs during regulation, his fifth goal of the series. Just take a look here at how Matthews tells Brodie where he wants the puck just before he rips it past Vasilevskiy.
He played a total of 22:42 and was 46.7 percent on faceoffs as well. Every time his skates hit the ice, he was making something happen for the blue and white, an absolute rockstar of a game from Matthews when the Leafs needed him most. Auston finished the series with five goals and four assists for a total of nine points in six games.
Tonight’s Third Star
John Tavares – While Tavares didn’t exactly have his best game during regulation, he did show up for the biggest moment of this series. He took the puck and did a full lap around the Tampa zone in overtime before spinning and firing the puck off of Darren Raddysh’s skate and past Vasilevskiy to win the series for the Leafs, ending a 19 year drought.
Tavares only played 16:39 in this one, but he was 55.6 percent in the faceoff circle. Either way, it doesn’t matter; he scored the biggest goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 20 years. Take a bow, captain. Tavares finished the series with four goals and three assists for a total of seven points in six games.
Honorable mention to TJ Brodie, Jake McCabe, and Luke Schenn; they were all outstanding last night. Brodie played 23:44 and had four hits and three blocks. He was a rock on the back end all night long. Schenn, who has been a presence all series long, logged 17:42 in ice time to go along with eight hits and two blocks as well. What was incredibly noticeable from Schenn the entire game was his patience with the puck in his own zone. He never panicked under pressure, not once. Meanwhile, Jake McCabe led the way in ice time with 27:22. He also had seven hits and four block shots, an absolute pillar on the blue line for the Leafs.
The Leafs will officially move on to the second round of the playoffs, and they will take on the winner of the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers series. Here was the reaction of Leafs GM Kyle Dubas.
Buckle up, Leafs Nation, and enjoy the ride!
For more Leafs news and in-game tweets, follow me on Twitter @mikethefanatic! Also, be sure to check out The Leafs Late Night Podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts!