There were many similarities between Game 1 of the series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs and Game 5 Tuesday night, which saw the Maple Leafs come back from being down 2-0 to win the game 4-3.
Looking back to the first game, which seemed to happen so long ago, the Maple Leafs started the game on the slow side. T.J. Brodie took a hooking penalty two minutes into the game. Then Kyle Clifford took a five-minute major for boarding/hitting from behind at 6:59.
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The great Game 1 five-minute penalty kill that saw the Maple Leafs get three scoring chances turned out to be the catalyst that propelled the Maple Leafs to a lopsided 5-0 win.
Game 5 Was the Mirror Image of Game 1
Flash forward to Tuesday night. After storming out of the gate in Game 4 and taking a 3-0 lead before the crowd in the Amalie Arena got settled into their seats, the Lightning looked like the same dominant team to start this game.
Despite taking an early penalty of their own at 2:51 of the first period, Tampa Bay scored two goals, one by Steven Stamkos at five-on-five and the other a power-play marker on a shot from the point by Victor Hedman.
The sinking, deja vu feeling for Maple Leafs’ fans of “Haven’t we seen this before?” was compounded when the Maple Leafs took back-to-back penalties. First, it was a hook by William Nylander, then a “player fell so we have to call something” penalty was called on Mark Giordano. Those penalties gave Tampa a 5-on-3 power play for 30 seconds.
But, what started as an opportunity for the Lightning to put the game away early, as they did in Game 4, once again seemed to be the turning point of the game in favor of the Maple Leafs.
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Following the great five-on-three kill by Brodie, David Kampf, and Jake Muzzin, as well as an excellent save by Jack Campbell, Nylander got a great scoring chance coming out of the penalty box. Still, when Giordano’s penalty was over the shots were 14-3 for the Lightning. Things began to change.
Once Again the Maple Leafs’ Crowd Made a Difference
The mood in the building changed considerably following that series of events. The crowd, which had been dead silent until then got into the game, and their energy seemed to flow right into the Maple Leafs’ legs.
The remaining six-plus minutes of the first period were played almost exclusively in the Lightning zone. The Maple Leafs only managed one shot on the net in that time, but they had several shot attempts including a Mitch Marner one-timer that shattered his stick.
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What was significant about the remaining one-third of the first period was that the Maple Leafs first stopped the bleeding. Second, their confidence received a huge boost. The team rode that wave of confidence throughout the last two periods of that game.
The Best Players Were the Best Players
We, along with others in the Maple Leafs’ media, stated that if the Maple Leafs were to have success in these playoffs the best players on the team – namely Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares, and Morgan Rielly – had to be the team’s best players. With the top-heavy structure this team has, they were not going anywhere if these players did not produce at an elite level.
These players came through with flying colors in Game 5. At the end of the game, the combined stat sheet of these five players totalled four goals, eight points, ten shots on net, and fourteen hits thrown.
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During the first five games of this series, the five players had combined for 11 goals, 25 points, 71 shots on net, and 44 hits. They are helping to carry the team.
[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.]