Now that the Tampa Bay Lightning took away home ice advantage in their first-round matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, there is a chance that they can actually win the series. Most people predicted that the series would go six or seven games, but that Toronto would eventually slay the dragon and win their first series since 2004. If they do, they will need to win on the road.
The good news for Bolts fans is that their regular-season record at Amalie Arena was 28-8-5 and they enjoyed a 12-game home winning streak in early Dec. 2022 that extended to Jan. 28, 2023. Now, they will need to rely on the home ice advantage if they want to advance to the Cup Final for the fourth consecutive year.
Game 3 in Tampa
As the higher seed, the Maple Leafs hosted the first two games. After dominating play on both sides of the ice in a Game 1 victory on Tuesday, April 18, 2023, the Lightning cooled off considerably and lost Game 2 by five goals. The fans’ emotions ebbed and flowed every time either team scored. Now that the games shift to Tampa, they need to win Game 3 to prove they can keep pace with a hungry, determined team. History shows that they have a very good chance to do so.
Starting with their surprise trip through the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, eventually losing in the Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Lightning have been one of the best teams during the postseason. Their career home record in the playoffs is 61-46; last season they won eight out of 11 home playoff games. They also hold a .667 series winning percentage, the highest all-time through 2021-22.
It may seem impossible 30 years ago when the Lightning played their first season in the NHL, but since March of 2015, the team holds the longest consecutive home sellout streak of 327. Even though the crowd can get pretty raucous in Toronto, Bolts fan can, and need to, match that intensity to help feed the energy in Amalie Arena.
If the Lightning Win Game 3
After the Lightning’s big win against the Maple Leafs in the Game 1 of the first-round series, head coach Jon Cooper made it clear that Toronto could just as easily win the series, but he also added that he wouldn’t bet against his players.
Last season, when these two teams faced each other in the first round of the postseason, the Lightning lost the first game, 5-0. They alternated wins in the next four games before Tampa came back from a 3-2 deficit, to win Game 7 and advance to the second round vs. the Florida Panthers. They were 2-1 on home ice.
Keys to Winning Series
Even though the Lightning are headed home for two games, the absences of Victor Hedman and Erik Cernak will be a huge concern if they cannot return to the lineup. After giving up seven goals in their Game 2 loss in Toronto, Tampa’s blueliners will need to contain the league’s second-best power play. They have allowed four power-play goals in the first two games in Toronto. During the regular season, their penalty kill at home was 81.8 percent.
On the flip side, the Lightning need to take advantage on the power play. They converted 50 percent (four on eight tries) on their Game 1 win, with their top power-play unit providing three goals. They then went 0-3 in the second game and paid for it with a loss.
Related: 3 Keys to the Lightning Beating the Maple Leafs
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The Lightning had the second-best home record this season and the fans continued to support their team. When they sold out their 300th consecutive home game on Dec. 8, 2022, Steven Stamkos stated, “We certainly get great fan support, so it’s a really fun building for us to play in. Obviously, our record probably speaks for itself, in terms of our home record the past six or seven years. It’s a place that we’re certainly comfortable playing in and we feed off the atmosphere. It’s become a great hockey town.”
The rivalry has heated up and It’s now a best of five series, with three games left to play in Tampa. With the Lightning’s home record and their winning playoff percentage over the past few years, they could very well defeat the Maple Leafs again.