What a way to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the Toronto Maple Leafs came out with a statement game for their opening act against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was borderline violent at times and full of absolute speed and skill at others, as many stories played out throughout the entertaining 60 minutes of hockey. Let’s dive into my three takeaways from what Leafs Nation is hoping is just the first of 16 wins en route to a Stanley Cup:
Special Teams Played a Major Role for Maple Leafs
This first-round series could come down to special teams and let’s just say in Game 1, that was the deciding factor. Maple Leafs forward Kyle Clifford crossed the line with a check-from-behind early and was kicked out of the game and instead of folding like a cheap suit, Toronto used the five minutes of shorthanded play to build momentum for the rest of the game. Crazy to think receiving a major penalty set the tone of the hockey game but it did, as it gave a chance for the fans to get extremely rowdy and into the hockey game and there was no looking back from there.
Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe loved what he heard from the fans all night and pointed out how they carried his hockey club through the long penalty kill. I can say, it was probably the loudest I’ve personally ever heard Scotiabank Arena and it’s a great site to see as Leafs Nation usually get a bad wrap for being suited up and quiet during games, but that certainly was not the case in Game 1.
Back to special teams, not only did the Maple Leafs kill Clifford’s stupid mistake early on in the game, Auston Matthews scored on a laser of a one-timer with the man advantage which was followed shortly after by a shorthanded snipe from David Kampf in what was a three-goal second period. Toronto’s penalty kill has been one of their biggest strengths this season and it carried over to the postseason as the Lightning went 0-for-5 on the power play while also allowing a shorthanded goal.
While the Maple Leafs won’t be thrilled with going 1/6 on their own power play, they never let it kill their momentum and did a good job at moving the puck and getting traffic in front of Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. This will be the only way Toronto will be able to solve the elite netminder as they’ll have to do a good job at taking away his eyes. If he sees the puck, he’s likely going to stop it, so expect to see more traffic in front of the blue paint all series long.
Big Guns Stepped Up for the Maple Leafs
Matthews now has more goals in one game of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs than he did the entire postseason ‘run’ in 2021. The “MVP” chants rained down throughout the game as the crowd poured out the love for the NHL’s likely Hart Trophy winner. He was a beast all game long and finished the night with two goals and one assist.
Meanwhile, his running mate Mitch Marner closed out the game with one goal and two assists including primary assists on Kampf’s shorthanded goal and Matthews’ rocket of a one-timer on the two-man advantage. He capped off both helpers with a goal of his own as he displayed a magical amount of patience to slide it through traffic as Vasilevskiy was out of position. Considering all the noise surrounding the playoff production from the Maple Leafs’ superstars, it was a welcomed sight to see the zeros be erased from their stat sheets early on to open the NHL’s second season.
Throw in netminder Jack Campbell and his 24-save performance and the Maple Leafs’ trio of big guns were the team’s best players. It’s always the best potential for victory when your best players play like your best players and the raucous crowd loved every minute of it. “Soup” chants rained down from start to finish and while Campbell didn’t have to worry about 10-bell saves all evening long, he made the huge save when he had to and was nice and quiet in the net. It seems like whatever was done or said during his rib injury has really paid off for him. Or, perhaps it was the way he prepared for Game 1.
Well, whatever went into the preparation, I loved every minute of Game 1. I also felt like I was hitting the nail on the head with what transpired before my own eyes. Don’t mind the humblebrag, but before the postseason began, I published an article about who needed to step up for the Maple Leafs during the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. I listed Campbell, Marner, Matthews and Kampf; hey, even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes.
Maple Leafs and Lightning Were Indeed ‘Borderline Violent’
The two buzz words before the puck dropped were ‘borderline violent’ as both sides mentioned how things could get messy between the two hockey clubs. We’ve seen it all year with the number of chirps, scrums, fights and everything in-between as Clifford’s major penalty also contributed to the wild and wacky that was Game 1.
Even Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly dropped the gloves in what was his first since he fought Alex Burrows back in 2016. The Stanley Cup Playoffs will do that to you, as you just never know when you’re number is going to be called out to stick up for yourself and your teammates. Rielly’s fight was a part of this wild scrum which saw some cheap shots landed and a couple of blows right on the button.
Forward Ondrej Kase was the only Maple Leaf to not record a hit in Game 1 and considering his recent concussion issues, you can’t blame him for that. However, Toronto defenseman Jake Muzzin, who has also been dealing with concussion issues, led the team with six hits, which was a nice sight to see as he also opened the scoring in what was one of his better games in the blue and white.
What an opening act, as Game 2 goes Wednesday night. Everyone knew this series was going to be organized chaos, so let’s see if this carries into the second game or if there will be a completely different vibe. Expect to see the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Lightning come out flying as they feel it’s going to be a long series. Meanwhile, Leafs Nation and the Maple Leafs are hopeful their unflappable start can continue, as they look to do something in Toronto that hasn’t been done in 55 years. This group is doing whatever they can to change the narrative as it is one down, and 15 more to go. I, for one, can’t wait to see what Game 2 has in store.
Shane covers any and everything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor to the THW family, his passion and unique perspective on the game results in some diverse content. Certainly versatile, you can also find him contributing at NHLTradeRumors.me, BaseballRumors.me & BBallRumors.com. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween