In the upcoming Toronto Maple Leafs’ first-round matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, many factors will go into deciding the outcome of the series. Both teams are highly talented with some of the best offensive players in the league. Tampa has been solid defensively throughout this season, while the Maple Leafs made moves as the season went on that vastly improved the team defensively.
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It’s difficult to say who has the advantage when it comes to the capabilities of the skaters. Both teams have players with amazing skills.
The Lightning’s Intangible Advantage & Historical Disadvantage
Tampa Bay definitely has an intangible and immeasurable advantage in the series. They’ve won the Stanley Cup, twice. As a result, they have a better idea of what it takes to win in the playoffs. That said, history suggests that the Lightning won’t win another Stanley Cup this season.
In fact, the last time a team won three Stanley Cups in a row was when the New York Islanders won four in a row. But that was 40 years ago in 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1983.
In the history of the NHL, only three different teams have won three Stanley Cups in a row. Those teams were the Islanders, the Montreal Canadiens (who won five in a row in the 1950s), and the Maple Leafs (who won three in a row in the early 1960s).
In fact, it could be said that the odds are against the Lightning winning three in a row. At the same time, It could also be said that – after losing so many first rounds, the Maple Leafs are due to win a playoff round.
The Lightning Have One of the Best Goalies in the NHL
Where Tampa definitely has the advantage, on paper at least, is in goal. Andrei Vasilevskiy has to be favored over Jack Campbell. Vasilevskiy has proven himself in the playoffs and Campbell has not.
Still, if the Maple Leafs are up to the task defensively and can limit the Lightning’s scoring chances, it would help give Campbell the ability to be his best. The Maple Leafs’ team defense could nullify the Lightning’s goaltending advantage.
Here’s Where David Kampf Comes In
In most cases, the playoffs come down to the best players on each team matching up against each other. It’s one team’s top line vs. the other team’s top line and one team’s second line vs. the other’s second line. The bottom two lines also match up. Usually, the playoff series’ winner is decided by whose best beats the other team’s best, and so on down the line.
Last playoff season, the Montreal Canadiens went from being the biggest underdog with the longest odds of even winning a single playoff game to being Stanley Cup finalists.
They did so by playing a third-line center Phillip Danault against the opposition’s best centers. That strategy allowed their two best centers – Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli – to play against weaker competition. At the same time, Danault was able to nullify the effectiveness of opposition players like Auston Matthews and Jonathan Marchessault.
Kampf Has the Ability to Be a Difference-Maker
David Kampf has shown similar abilities to Danault. He can play tough minutes against the opposing team’s top lines and be very effective at it.
It starts with Kampf’s face-off ability. When playing five-on-five, Kampf takes 75 percent of his face-offs in the defensive zone and he’s won 55 percent of those draws. That gives his team possession of the puck off the draw in their own zone a majority of the time.
Then, despite starting three-quarters of his shifts in his own zone, Kampf is a positive in Shot Attempts (51%), Shots (52%), Scoring Chances (51%), and Expected Goals (51%) when he’s on the ice at five-on-five.
Can Kampf Help Shut Down the Lightning’s Offense?
The Lightning has multiple ways of hurting their opposition offensively. Nikita Kucherov, Braydon Point, and Steven Stamkos are all proven, playoff performers. Kampf can’t eliminate the effectiveness of all of them.
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However, if Kampf can nullify just one of them, it could go a long way toward helping the Maple Leafs advance past the Lightning. If that could happen, there’s no reason the Maple Leafs couldn’t continue that process series after series.
Just because the Maple Leafs have lost several first-round series in succession, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that they’ll lose this one.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
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