Funny how things turn in a hurry. Last night, the same two teams played, but you wouldn’t know it. Almost everything the Toronto Maple Leafs did well in Game 1, they failed to do well in Game 2. The result was a 5-3 loss by the Maple Leafs to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Whereas in Game 1, the Maple Leafs overwhelmed the Lightning with speed and tenacity, in last night’s game the tables turned and the Lightning came out at a different speed. For most of the game, the Maple Leafs didn’t keep up. The Maple Leafs showed little of the speedy physicality they had shown on Monday night.
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It wasn’t until they were behind by a score of 5-1 that the Maple Leafs started to play at their Game 1 speed and ferocity. It was too late.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look at key aspects of the game – as I see them – and comment on what they might mean for the team.
Item One: Bad Decisions By the Maple Leafs
Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe told the truth after the game. The Lighting team that showed up last night was the Lighting team he expected to show up in Game 1. He said in the media scrum after the game that it “was the team we prepared for.”
But he saw the game a bit differently than I did. He believed that, “At 5v5, it is a pretty even hockey game. Their power play was better, and we took too many penalties.” [Chief among the culprits was Wayne Simmonds, who seemed to be goaded into extra-curricular activities too often.]
I thought the Lightning had much of the better play five-on-five, but I have no disagreement that the Maple Leafs took too many penalties. Also I agree that the Lightning’s power play was better. Special teams were the difference between the two teams; and, in Game 2 it wasn’t in favor of the Maple Leafs.
Finally, the Maple Leafs made poor decisions. The Maple Leafs didn’t read the refs well. Keefe admitted that the “refs set the standard early;” however, his team didn’t do a good job “responding to that.” That turned out to be the fatal error of Game 2.
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In the end, the score was 5-3 Lightning, and the Lightning scored three goals with the man advantage. If my math is right, that was the difference in the game. Bad decisions were made by the Maple Leafs to engage in the mischief after plays ended, and the Lighting made them pay for those decisions.
Item Two: Mitch Marner Is Leading the Team
Mitch Marner has come to play in both games. In Game 1, he scored after 18 postseasons games without a goal. He scored another goal last night and assisted on a second. His assist came on Michael Bunting’s goal in the second period that drew the team within one.
Bunting, Marner, and first-line partner Auston Matthews played well in the game and showed why they are one of the top lines in the NHL. Although it’s little consolation with the Game 2 loss, Marner now has posted two straight multiple-point games in the series. He hasn’t crept away and hid as his critics suggest he usually does in the postseason.
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Putting the cart ahead of the horse a bit, but I’m still optimistic about this team, a third straight multiple-point playoff game in Florida in Friday’s Game 3 would help his team recover the home-ice advantage. This is exciting hockey.
Item Three: Auston Matthews Isn’t Injured This Season
Last season was not a good one for Auston Matthews. He only scored a single goal in seven postseason games. This season he’s already doubled that and continues to play well – even in a loss. He registered two assists – one on Bunting’s goal and the other on Marner’s goal – in the 5-3 loss.
Where Matthews was most noticeable was on defense. He closed fast on the pucks when the Lightning players seemed to be bearing down on Jack Campbell. A number of times he just took the puck away from behind the play. He’s played well, and now has two goals and three assists (for five points) in this series thus far. He has more in him.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The easy thing about the postseason is that, as a fan, you always know what’s next. I’m not sure how other Maple Leafs’ fans feel about their team after the loss, but I’m resting easier after two games into the series than I was before Game 1.
I know the team can compete, and I know the Maple Leafs’ stars are every bit as good as the Lightning’s stars – and the Lightning have many. Victor Hedman is a beast. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are as advertised. And, Andrei Vasilevskiy is a really good goalie. He made a ton of good saves last night.
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But he Vasilevskiy can be beaten. The Maple Leafs can play faster and better defensively. And, they can play a ton smarter. Finally, the Maple Leafs’ depth players are good enough to help the stars win. Alex Kerfoot has been great.
It’s going to be a series.
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