If the Tampa Bay Lightning thought that coming home for Game 3 of their playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs would ensure an easy victory, they were sadly mistaken. Toronto jumped out to a 3-0 lead before holding off a third-period Lightning rally to secure a 5-2 win.
The loss snapped a seven-game home playoff winning streak for the Lightning, who now trail 2-1 in the best-of-7 series. The Maple Leafs, who are looking to win their first playoff series since 2004, made some lineup changes that seem to have made an impact in neutralizing the Lightning and their home-ice advantage.
The Lightning, Once Again, Start Slowly in the First Period
Game 3 of this playoff series looked very much like the start of Game 1 on Monday night. Toronto jumped out to an early lead thanks to a Morgan Reilly power-play goal. The power-play was set up when Pat Maroon rifled the puck over the glass in his own end, leading to a delay-of-the-game penalty. The unfortunate thing about the Maroon penalty was that it was such poor execution of an attempted pass out of their own zone. The second Toronto goal was scored right after they stopped a rather tepid Lightning power play. Colin Blackwell buried the puck in an open net just seconds after returning to even strength. The disappointing Lightning first period ended with Eric Cernak getting a roughing penalty, giving Toronto a power play to start the second period.
It was not like the Lightning did not expect that the Maple Leafs would come into the game with a great deal of determination. During Friday morning’s press conference, head coach Jon Cooper said, “We can’t come back here, our team, and sit here and say just because we have the crowd behind us now that we can take a breath and exhale and say we’re going to be OK. That will be a shame on us if that’s the attitude we have coming into tonight’s game.” While it is not known if that was the team’s attitude, it is inexcusable for a team full of playoff-tested veterans to start out a game with such a flat performance.
Penalties Hurt Tampa Bay’s Offensive Momentum
In addition to putting the other team on a power play, penalties also prevented the Lightning from getting sustained offensive rhythm. The biggest evidence of this came in the second period when Ondrej Palat was called for boarding less than a minute after Ross Colton had cut the Toronto lead to 3-1. This penalty sapped any offensive momentum away from the Lightning and diminished the energy that the reinvigorated home crowd was trying to instill into the game. For the game, the Lightning committed five penalties while the Maple Leafs were only whistled for three.
So far this postseason, penalties seem to be called closer to what happens in the regular season, opposite to what the officials are perceived to do in the playoffs. Generally, the opinion in the hockey world is that the refs put the whistles away when the games matter the most. That has not been true for this series, and it has also been accurate in most of the other playoff series as well. Up to Friday’s games, there have been 133 total power-play opportunities compared to just 99 at the same point last year. While there has been a bit of feistiness to this series, the penalties that the Lightning were called for on Friday seem to be deserved. The team needs to reduce unnecessary penalties to allow their offense to run on all cylinders.
Toronto’s Lineup Changes Worked
Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe decided to shuffle his lineup in order to reverse some of the issues his team encountered in Wednesday’s loss. This seems to be in part why the Lightning had such a hard time getting untracked. In the first two games, Toronto took quite a few unnecessary penalties. With both Kyle Clifford (Game 1) and Simmonds (Game 2) taking reckless penalties, Jason Spezza was inserted into the lineup. This move seemed to have worked for the Maple Leafs as Spezza’s veteran presence helped them be far more disciplined than the Lightning in Game 3.
The Lightning will once again need to use their experience and ability to bounce back after a bad playoff loss in Sunday’s Game 4 or face the prospect of being three games down in the series heading back to Toronto.
Jim Bay writes about the Tampa Bay Lightning for THW. A retired Special Education Teacher, Jim enjoys writing about hockey and all sports when he is not slashing his way around local golf courses. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow Jim on Twitter. (https://twitter.com/baysports007)