Toronto Maple Leafs vs Tampa Bay Lightning: First Round Series Preview

Well, here we go again! The time of year we all have been waiting for! This Toronto Maple Leafs squad has accomplished greater things this past regular season than any other Maple Leafs team in the franchise’s 104 year history. Countless players on the roster achieved career highs in major statistical categories, most notably being Auston Matthews and his 60-goals in just 73 games… which locked in his second straight Rocket Richard Trophy and put him in serious consideration for the Hart Trophy. So what does setting a franchise record in wins and points get this version of the Toronto Maple Leafs? The TWO-TIME defending Stanley Cup Champions in the Tampa Bay Lightning.

So what better way to get excited for a playoff series than to dig into the details of the matchup and see where the edge lies for each team. In other words, I’ll be doing a statistical comparison for each team at 5v5 and special teams, along with my series prediction.

5 V 5

TorontoStatsTampa Bay
53.56 (6th)CF %50.84 (12th)
208 (2nd)GF183 (9th)
182 (22nd)GA149 (6th)
53.33 (10th)GF%55.12 (6th)
190.75 (3rd)xGF171.08 (12th)
154.9 (7th)xGA153.73 (5th)
55.19 (3rd)xGF%52.67 (9th)
.909 (27th)SV%.922 (10th)
9.32 (4th)SH%9.48 (3rd)
1.002 (14th)PDO1.016 (3rd)
Data courtesy of Natural Stattrick

There is plenty of stuff to dive into here so let’s start off with the low hanging fruit. THIS SERIES IS GOING TO BE ABSOLUTELY INSANE. It is truly remarkable how offensively gifted these teams are, it just seems like something special can happen no matter who will be on the ice for either team. With that being said, I think the most obvious x-factor we will be looking out for is the goaltending battle. For the Leafs, goaltending was a struggle for most of the season, although Jack Campbell has found his form as of late. For the Lightning, the Leafs will be trying to score on the undisputed best goaltender in the world in Andrei Vasilevskiy. I’ve said it on our most recent podcast, he is my number one concern as Leafs fan. He has played 48 playoff games over the last two seasons, he has won 34 of them while putting up a 1.90 GAA and .932 SV%. He has arguably been the MVP for the Lightning over their two cup runs and although he has not shown to be a lock Vezina candidate this year… he is still the best player in these upcoming playoffs until proven otherwise.

The clear advantages in the Leafs favour are their ability to control possession and create chances at 5v5. This Leafs team is much deeper at both forward and defence so being able to rely on some of that depth more will be a major key to success as this series moves along. It might very well come down to Toronto’s star forwards having an electric performance for 2 weeks and that simply is enough to overwhelm the cup champs who have played a lot of hockey over the last 2 years because Tampa doesn’t look to be weak at any portion of their 5 on 5 play no matter how you slice it.

Power Play

TorontoStatsTampa Bay
10.38 (1st)GF/608.75 (8th)
8.99 (2nd)xGF/607.75 (10th)
16.41 (5th)SH%15.16 (8th)
26.70 (3rd)HDCF/6024.41 (9th)
19.12 (5th)HDSF/6017.92 (9th)
4.61 (5th)HDGF/604.23 (10th)
27.3 (1st)PP%23.9 (8th)
Data courtesy of Natural Stattrick and NHL.com

Now as we get into special teams, I am pleased to remind everyone that the Maple Leafs power play has NOT SUCKED for the back half of the regular season and that the team can have some confidence going into the post-season. Statistically speaking, the Leafs have been much better over the course of this season with the man advantage. Specifically, when we talk about the generation of High Danger Chances/Shots For (HDCF/HDSF), the Maple Leafs have been able to turn the tide of momentum when given the opportunity to go on the power play much better than the Lightning have. Although, there is a slight cause for concern when you look at these stats from the trade deadline until the end of the regular season. Since March 21:

TorontoStatsTampa Bay
9.51 (9th)GF/6013.32 (1st)
8.73 (6th)xGF/608.92 (4th)
15.38 (10th)SH%19.17 (5th)
27.94 (5th)HDCF/6028.38 (4th)
19.62 (6th)HDSF/6023.17 (1st)
4.76 (6th)HDGF/607.53 (1st)
23.5 (9th)PP%33.8 (1st)
Data courtesy of Natural Stattrick and NHL.com

After the deadline, the script has been completely flipped and that doesn’t really bode well for Toronto as the power play is really all about the current form and there might not be a hotter power play over the 6 weeks than Tampa Bay. Something that I am going to be looking for is how easily each team is finding ways to get their best shooters in prime locations to fire the puck. What makes Tampa so dangerous is they have 4 potent shooters in Stamkos, Kucherov, Point and Hedman and this is a major advantage for them over the Leafs power play since guys like Morgan Rielly and Mitch Marner aren’t in the same tier as those guys when it comes to finding the back of the net.

Penalty Kill

TorontoStatsTampa Bay
6.47 (8th)GA/606.78 (10th)
5.88 (4th)xGA/606.35 (6th)
.865 (15th)SV%.864 (16th)
16.48 (5th)HDCA/6020.49 (11th)
12.16 (5th)HDSA/6014.68 (11th)
2.62 (6th)HDGA/603.60 (16th)
82.1 (8th)PK%80.6 (11th)
Data courtesy of Natural Stattrick and NHL.com

Slightly similar to the power play over the entire 82-game season, the Maple Leafs are performing slightly better than the Lightning when shorthanded. It gives me a lot of encouragement that the Lightning are not that elite at preventing high danger chances when killing penalties because it provides a massive opportunity for the Maple Leafs power play to exploit this when given the chances.

But once again, the recent trends are not pointing in the right direction with the Leafs on the penalty kill. Since the trade deadline, the numbers show:

TorontoStatsTampa Bay
10.14 (29th)GA/606.97 (13th)
6.39 (6th)xGA/606.32 (5th)
.815 (30th)SV%.859 (16th)
16.22 (2nd)HDCA/6023.59 (20th)
10.81 (3rd)HDSA/6015.01 (16th)
2.70 (13th)HDGA/602.68 (12th)
74.6 (28th)PK%80.3 (13th)
Data courtesy of Natural Stattrick and NHL.com

It has been quite clear from just watching the games that the goaltending has let the penalty kill down lately, and that same sentiment is evident when you look at the breakdown above. The Leafs have actually allowed less High Danger Chances and Shots per 60 over these last 6 weeks than they did over the course of the entire season but their penalty kill has essentially cratered to the bottom of the league. Like I mentioned before with the power play, the penalty kill is all about your confidence. Nothing good can come if the killers are tentative because they are afraid of the puck going in their net… what has made the Leafs successful on the penalty kill before is aggressiveness and fearlessness to attack the opponent when the puck isn’t in their possession. If they can do that and protect the house from those seam passes across the d-zone and get some serviceable goaltending… I have some faith that the penalty kill will return to form and could even become a weapon for them this series.

Series Prediction

With all that being said, I think that as good as the team Kyle Dubas has put together on the ice has been over this season, no matter how many times over the last 82 games this team has shown the fans and media that they are different from the last… I just don’t think it will be enough to knock out the champs. My prediction is the Lightning win this series in 6 games on the back of Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Look at the end of the day, it’s hockey and anything can happen… I don’t have to tell anyone that saw last year’s playoffs play out that the underdog can’t win no matter how little it would make sense. But I just think, with the combination of star power, depth, goaltending and coaching… this current era of Tampa Bay Lightning teams is virtually impossible to beat 4 times over the course of a 7-game series. All the power to Leafs, for the love of all that is good, I hope they prove me wrong… but I don’t think we are in for a long cup run just yet here in Toronto.