It was a fantastic start to a series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning. A game that saw Matthews tally two goals, Rielly fight twice, and Campbell record a shutout. It was a game that appeared to bring the Lightning players back down to earth. Coming into the playoffs, being back-to-back cup champs can provide you with a bit of an ego. However, the Maple Leaf’s players seemed to use that as energy and put up a five-spot on arguably the best goalie in the league, Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Penalty Killers
Whether it was Marner, Kerfoot, Engvall, Kampf, Mikheyev, or Kase, the PK group got the job done together and sparked the team for the rest of the game. When Kyle Clifford hit Ross Colton into the boards and received a five and a game, the Maple Leafs would cave to the pressure of having to kill off a five-minute major so early in the game, but instead, it seemed to appear to have given them life. That penalty kill was the best penalty kill most Leaf fans have ever seen in their time supporting the team. It generated more offensive chances than Tampa had on all 5 of their power-plays in the game. Of course, Vasilevskiy stood tall on Toronto’s opportunities, but eventually, David Kampf was able to solve him when he broke past the sprawling Hedman and scored on the breakaway. Heading into the rest of the series, the penalty killers need to keep that same intensity and limit the chances of Tampa getting set up on their power-plays. We all know the type of damage they can cause when their power-play is rolling.
An aspect of the Maple Leaf’s game that has often been considered “weak” or “soft,” but in game 1 of this series, the Maple Leafs showed that they might not be as “weak’ or “soft” as many initially thought. This game was picked up in terms of physicality during the 2nd and carried through to the 3rd when a line brawl broke out. It started with a hit by Simmonds on Rutta. This led to Perry and Maroon following him around the ice, but Simmonds didn’t accept, which was smart because it drew a penalty. However, things got heated, and a brawl broke out. Lyubushkin and Perry got into it together, and Simmonds went after Hedman. Rielly fought both Maroon (in which he didn’t win), and then he fought Rutta and left him bloody as he skated off the ice. This added to the narrative that Leaf’s head coach Sheldon Keefe set out when he called the series “borderline violent,” which, after the first game, it seems to be a long, violent series.
Overall, the team played very well in the first game of the series. Some would say it was the perfect way for the Leafs to breakout and have a strong first series on route to a potential cup run. It was the first game of a 7-game series, and it is key for both the fans and players not to get ahead of themselves and blow the opportunity as we have done in past playoffs, but something just felt different about last night. It felt like this could finally be the year the Toronto Maple Leafs overcame their demons and found playoff success.