The Toronto Maple Leafs lead their best-of-seven first-round series two games to one following their gutsy hard-fought 5-2 victory over the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Friday night. While it was not a picture-perfect game or as dominant a game as they had in their 5-0 win in Game 1, it was a nice bounce-back game following their 5-3 beatdown in Game 2.
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The Maple Leafs did exactly what they had to do to win the game. They scored the first goal, which appears to be crucial in this series. The team that has scored first has won all three games. The Maple Leafs then added to that lead, with timely scoring, to build a 3-0 lead. Then they hung on from there.
Game 3 Wasn’t a Pretty Win, But It Was a Win
It wasn’t a pretty win by any means. Although the Maple Leafs did an excellent job limiting the odd-man rushes, they still gave Tampa too many high-danger scoring chances. According to their game report, at five-on-five the Lightning had twelve high-danger scoring chances to the Maple Leafs’ three.
When we were looking over the stats for the game, we noticed something that makes us wonder what criteria some of them are based on. According to Naturalstattrick, in the first period, the Lightning had six high-danger chances at five-on-five while the Maple Leafs had none – zilch – zero. We would ask anyone to go back and look at Colin Blackwell’s goal that made the score 2-0 in the first period and then tell us how that would not be considered a high-danger scoring chance.
After falling behind 3-0, the Lightning scored two goals to pull within a goal with just over 14 minutes left. Suddenly, the game became interesting. Jack Campbell made some stellar saves in what might have been his best postseason game for the Maple Leafs, while Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev teamed up to score two empty-net goals to put the game away.
Jack Campbell Deserved to Be the Game’s First Star
Jack Campbell was named the game’s first star, and deservedly so. He was stellar throughout the game. Tampa’s first two shots on the net were excellent scoring chances. Campbell made numerous great saves, especially in the third period when Tampa Bay tilted the ice in their favor in an effort to tie the game.
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We had written when this series started that the one area where the Lightning had the advantage was in goal. Andrei Vasilevskiy had to be favored over Campbell. He was a proven playoff performer with a record of 50 wins and 31 losses in 81 playoff games. His goals-against average in those 81 games was 2.29 and his save percentage was 0.923. If that isn’t proof enough of how good he’s been, he has two shiny Stanley Cup rings to back up his statistics.
Campbell, on the other hand, had a very nice save percentage (0.934%) and goals-against average (1.81) in the playoffs previous to this season. However, he’s played a grand total of seven games in the postseason. In a lot of people’s minds, Campbell has yet to prove he’s a bonafide NHL starter let alone a goalie that can lead his team deep into the playoffs.
The Series Isn’t Over, But Campbell Is Playing Better than Vasilevskiy
While we stress this series, at 2-1 Maple Leafs, is far from over, Campbell’s been the better of the two goalies to this point. He’s allowed seven goals in the three games for a 2.37 goals-against average and has stopped 85 of the 92 shots he has faced for a 0.924 save percentage. At the other end of the rink, Vasilevskiy has allowed 11 goals on exactly 100 shots which gives him a goals-against-average of 3.72 and a save percentage of 0.890.
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As we stated, this series is far from over. In the playoffs the past two seasons, Vasilevskiy has not lost back-to-back games. In each of the 14 games following a loss, he’s been a perfect 14-0.
If the Maple Leafs want to avoid making it 15-0, they’ll need Campbell to repeat his performance from Friday night. If he can do that, and the skaters in front of him can continue to perform as well as they have, they will take a stranglehold on this series.
Can the Maple Leafs Nurture the Seed of Doubt They’ve Sown?
The one thing the Maple Leafs have accomplished, by winning the first game in Tampa and taking a 2-1 lead in this series, is to plant a seed of doubt in the psyche of the Lightning. If they can nurture that seed with a follow-up win on Sunday night, there’s no way the Lightning come back in this series.
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The players who were with the team for the devastating loss to the Montreal Canadiens last season won’t allow that to happen again.
[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.]
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