3 Takeaways From Maple Leafs’ 5-3 Game 2 Loss to the Lightning

If you were expecting the Toronto Maple Leafs to sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning, you were doomed from the start. After what was, in my opinion, the best 60-minute effort of the season against the Lightning in Game 1, Tampa Bay stormed back and took Game 2 with a 5-3 victory over the Maple Leafs.

When you’re facing the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions in the first round, a strong response effort after such a poor showing in Game 1 was to be expected. In a lot of ways, I wouldn’t say it was the worst effort I’ve seen from the Maple Leafs. However, one thing remains consistent; you have very little room for error against a team like the Lightning, and that proved itself to be true last night.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Although the Maple Leafs were able to make things interesting towards the end of the game, the lack of a full 60-minute effort ultimately burned them. Like every Maple Leafs game, there’s always lots to talk about afterwards. But let’s narrow it down. Here are three key takeaways from Toronto’s Game 2 loss to Tampa Bay.

Maple Leafs’ Little Mistakes Prove Costly

You can always identify certain things during games that serve as momentum benders en route to a win or a loss. In the Maple Leafs’ case, there were two points during the game where it seemed as though it swung the Lightning’s way. The first one was Victor Hedman‘s goal to put the Bolts in front with one second left in the first period. After a botched clearing attempt, he had all the time in the world to put the puck in the net, which put a sour end to what was an otherwise great period for Toronto.

From there, things started to snowball. The Maple Leafs allowed the deficit to grow to two with a Corey Perry breakaway goal less than three minutes into the second period, and just barely two minutes after Michael Bunting cut the lead in half, Tampa Bay took it back. After Wayne Simmonds took a roughing penalty, a costly mistake from David Kampf in which he tried passing it to a stickless T.J. Brodie instead of clearing it, resulted in their third goal of the game and a second power play goal. This one especially hurt, because Kampf is a very safe player and normally never takes penalties like this.

Simmonds ended up taking two penalties during the game, both retaliation penalties after the whistle, and both resulted in Tampa Bay goals. I’m not putting all of the blame on him, especially given the expectation that the series would be “borderline violent” at times, but in seeing the way the officials were calling penalties, those are plays that should have been avoided. With fellow veteran Jason Spezza waiting for his shot in the lineup, the Scarborough native didn’t do himself any favours with his time in the box.

Maple Leafs’ Campbell Second Fiddle to Lightning’s Vasilevskiy

After collecting a shutout in Game 1, cracks formed in Jack Campbell’s game, and he had a bit of a regression in Game 2. It certainly wasn’t his worst game of the season, and there were points when the team definitely didn’t do him any favours, but five goals against and a .853 save percentage (SV%) likely wasn’t an ideal outcome for him or the team.

Although he made some big saves that kept them in the game and allowed them to make it close at the end, he didn’t play well enough to bail them out of their sloppy spurts. The chances were close to even for most of the game between the teams, but Bolts’ netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy was clearly the better of the two goaltenders and made some huge saves to keep his team ahead, with his biggest stop coming on Timothy Liljegren shortly before Corey Perry extended the lead to 2-0.

After returning from a rib injury on April 2, Campbell had a .911 SV% in nine games before the end of the season. Even after his performance in Game 2, I firmly believe that he’s still one of the team’s X-factors when it comes to potentially taking this series from the Lightning. While it would be unrealistic to expect him to put the team on his back every game, having his SV% hover around that .911 mark is the bare minimum of what the Maple Leafs will need from their goaltender in this series. He finished the 2020-21 first round against the Montreal Canadiens with a .934 SV%, so he’s clearly capable of doing it.

Maple Leafs Need to Balance Physical Play with Officiating Style

Like I said above, this series against the Lightning was expected to be “borderline violent”, as head coach Sheldon Keefe said prior to Game 1, and so far, it’s been just that. Having said that, with the increased physicality in the playoffs comes the responsibility to adjust your tendencies based on how the officials are calling the game.

Officiating in the playoffs has proven to come from a different rulebook than the one during the regular season, as we’ve seen in years past. But this year, or at least through these first two games, the officials have been very hard on their whistles. 24 penalties were called during Game 1, and while the 11 penalties called during Game 2 were a bit of a drop, there also wasn’t a line brawl to deal with. On numerous occasions tonight, the Maple Leafs took penalties after the whistle that ultimately cost them goals. I’m primarily talking about Simmonds’ two penalties, but Bunting took a similar one that, although it resulted in a shorthanded goal, wasn’t a smart one to take.

Officiating across the league has been a topic of conversation for a while now, and while I don’t agree with a lot of the calls officials make (and I’m sure the Maple Leafs don’t either), there comes a point where you have to adjust to the way the game is called. Consistency would be nice, but in the end, you can’t win any hockey games when you’re spending half of the game on the penalty kill, and the Leafs have to take every measure to stay out of the box in Game 3 and beyond.

Maple Leafs Must Carry Late-Game Momentum into Game 3

Although none of my takeaways suggested it, Game 2 wasn’t all bad. The Maple Leafs scored two goals in the final 10 minutes to bring them back within two and then had an opportunity to do further damage on a 6-on-4 power play with two minutes left and the goalie pulled, but couldn’t capitalize. Still, there’s something to be said about the fact that they avoided the lopsided loss and fought to stay in the game.

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Like I said off the top, the chances of the Maple Leafs sweeping the Lightning were always minimal. However, if they want to give themselves the best odds in this series, they have to keep the pressure high rather than dwelling on the Game 2 loss. Tampa Bay is a team that will make their opponents pay for making mistakes, so keeping them to a minimum will be a crucial factor in getting ahead of the Lightning on the road in Game 3.

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