The Toronto Maple Leafs played an excellent third period. That’s about the only positive to take away from a 7-3 thrashing by the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4. Contrary to what the doomsday naysayers are crying about between burning jerseys, a split in Tampa Bay is a victory.
This best of seven series is now down to a best of three, with two of those games in Toronto. However, even home ice cannot save this team if it performs how it did for the first forty minutes of Game 4.
Maple Leafs Caught Flatfooted
Toronto had a convincing Game 3 victory; that alone should’ve prepared the team for what was coming in Game 4. Since 2020 Tampa Bay is 16-0 following a loss while scoring 63 goals and allowing 25. Nikita Kucherov has 30 points in those games, and Andrei Vasilevskiy has five shutouts, a .945 save percentage and a 1.41 goals-against average. Oh, and they have won two Stanley Cups over that stretch.
This game was over in the first eight minutes. Not only did Tampa Bay take a commanding three-goal lead, but the third goal was scored by Patrick Maroon, who made a few Leafs look ridiculous. Toronto must’ve known the Lightning would come out strong, which is more concerning. The Maple Leafs simply had no answers for the performance of the champions.
Captain John Tavares in the Cross Hairs
There is always a scapegoat, and it seems the ire of Leafs’ fans has fallen directly on the captain. John Tavares has two assists and is a minus-three in the series, despite his team scoring 16 goals. SportsNet Stats even piled on as the commentary builds against Captain Toronto, tweeting that Tavares has just as many penalty minutes (2) as goals in the post-season since 2020.
Sheldon Keefe spoke about Tavares play, “he is working. He is trying. It is a tough series out there.” While he is not criticizing his team leader, the stats show he is not impressed. Tavares averaged about 18 minutes of ice time in the first three games but recorded only 13:50 in Game 4.
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“Well, I haven’t been able to produce offensively,” said Tavares after the game. “It’s important for me to play good without the puck and not trying to be overly aggressive because I’m just worried about offence. Obviously, I’d like to find more and generate more and continue to go out there and execute at a high level. No doubt I expect more and want to be better.”
Campbell’s Confidence in Question
The Lightning scored on their first shot one minute into the game, ratcheting up an already electric crowd. It’s difficult to judge if Jack Campbell was bad or had no help. Actually, it was both. He left the game around the halfway mark after allowing five goals on 16 shots and a pretty nasty-looking .688 save percentage.
“It’s one game,” said Campbell, “obviously I expect myself to make a lot of saves on the ones they had tonight, but learn from it, be ready for the next one.”
Keefe decided to pull Campbell to let him get ready for Game 5, “we need him to be good for the next game. It is more so a mindset.”
There are not many good things to take from the game, but Erik Kallgren stopped all ten shots he faced in relief of Campbell. Admittedly, Tampa Bay was playing more defensively, and Toronto was picking up the pace in front of Kallgren. However, it’s still a positive sign when you consider the last time the rookie played the Lightning he allowed eight goals.
Toronto fought 82 regular-season games to stay in front of Tampa Bay and secure home-ice advantage for at least the first round. Now this team must take full advantage of home ice if they stand any chance of advancing to the second round for the first time since 2004.
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Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.