Maple Leafs Will Kick in Opportunity’s Door This Season

Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 4-3 in overtime. The series is now tied, and the teams head back to Toronto for the deciding Game 7 on Saturday night. It’s probably appropriate.

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For us, the bottom line is that these are two extremely evenly-matched teams, and this series could still go either way. Sadly, this game was decided by a five-on-three high-sticking penalty, but that’s hockey. 

Auston Matthews Seems to Be Willing to Risk – Well – Lots

So, here we go again. For the fifth year in a row, the Maple Leafs will be involved in a one-game, winner-take-all game in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes a save on Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

There are a number of ways to look at last night’s 4-3 overtime win by the Lightning in Tampa. In fact, pretty much every media outlet has broken the game down and dissected it in every way possible. We believe Auston Matthews pretty much summed up our feelings up in his post- presser when he stated: 

“What’s in the past is in the past, man. I mean we can’t change anything now. It’s about this next game and going out there and with the purpose and details and just competing for 60 minutes or whatever it takes and you know we just got to put our balls on the line and go for it.”  

Related: The Evolution of Europeans in the NHL

Sure, there are some cliches in there, and we aren’t really sure about the whole “balls on the line” comment. Still, what Matthews says is correct.  

This Round-One Series Is Not Over Yet

This series is not over yet. We’re constantly reminded that, as good as the Maple Leafs are, they haven’t really won anything yet. At the same time, to put this situation into the present context, we can also say this season the Maple Leafs haven’t lost anything yet. 

Without going into details about Game 6, we can say that there were almost as many positives in Game 6 as there were negatives. We say “almost” because the one big negative is they lost the game. 

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Maple Leafs Center John Tavares scored twice against Lightning Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy last night
(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Looking forward, we have two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference of the NHL going head-to-head in a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That’s great hockey.

Related: 3 Takeaways From the Lightning’s Game 6 Overtime Win vs. Maple Leafs

Unless either Sheldon Keefe or Jon Copper pulls a move that is totally unexpected, all the chess pieces are on the table. After six gruelling games, neither of these teams hold any surprises for each other. Extending Matthews’ willingness to sacrifice, this is best-on-best, mano-a-mano hockey.

The Maple Leafs and the Lightning Are Evenly Matched

Despite one-sided games, either way, these two teams appear to be about as evenly matched as you can get. Through six games, the Maple Leafs hold an ever-so-slight edge in goals scored at 23-21 and shots-on-net 190-185. 

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If we use Jack Campbell’s and Andrei Vasilevskiy’s stats as a gauge of how each team has played both offensively and defensively, each goalie has won three games and lost three games. Campbell has a save percentage of 0.893%, and a goals-against-average of 3.33 while Vasilevskiy has a 0.885 save percentage and a 3.37 goals-against-average.  

It doesn’t get closer than that. 

Time for the Maple Leafs to Kick In the Door of Opportunity

As Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe always says, once the game goes into overtime anything can happen. Although the Maple Leafs dominated most of that overtime, they lost with Auston Matthews on the ice and Mitch Marner without his stick. 

We’re thinking that bodes well for this team. Given these two players’ determination and physicality during this season and postseason, you’ve got to know they’re taking this loss personally. That’s good.  

Related: Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews Is Finally Stepping Into Leadership Role

As Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Wade “Bum” Phillips noted after his team lost to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots 13-3 in Superbowl LIII (2019), “The first year we knocked on the door. This year we beat on the door. Next year we’re gonna kick the son of a b….. in.” 

This is the year for the Maple Leafs’ to do some kicking. The old saying is that streaks are made to be broken. For as discouraged as many Maple Leafs’ fans currently feel, there’s nothing to say Saturday night won’t see the end of two streaks — one for both the Maple Leafs and one for the Lightning.

[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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