Could anyone have written a better script for game one of the series with the two-time Stanley Cup winners Tampa Bay Lightning for the Toronto Maple Leafs?
The Penalty Kill was perfect and notched a goal, the Power Play too scored a goal, and the Maple Leafs stars were the brightest we have seen in last couple of playoffs.
All of this lead to a resounding 5-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, Maple Leafs from puck drop to the final game horn dominated all over the ice. It was a full team effort, the Maple Leafs made the Lightning looked tired, slow, but more importantly frustrated. The Leafs gave them no ice, and when it was called for the Maple Leafs also showed the grit and fight when the Lightning tried to goon it up late in the 3rd period.
This was a statement game, one that could be a sign that the maturation of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander has taken root. It was a statement for Jack Campbell, who saved all 24 shots he received and who looks very much like the goalie who earned his ticket to the NHL-All Star Game. It was a statement that these Maple Leafs won’t be pushed around, and that when playing at their best there are few better.
Yes, it was only one game. However, how important was this game historically speaking you ask? Well the team that wins game one at home has gone to win the win the series (.700%+ winning percentage when the home team wins game one).
For team that was always talented, and who need to show more of an understanding and willingness to battle harder in crucial games likes this but who have been bogged down with confidence issues, this win could mean more than most people outside of that dressing room would give it credit to.
So where does this team go after one of its best efforts, with a very angry and determined Tampa Bay team waiting for tomorrow’s game? The solution will come in how the Maple Leafs handle the opening 10-15 minutes of the first period of game two. If the Maple Leafs can clog up the ice as effectively as they did last night and be as composed as to not give Tampa any early looks on the Power Play, then the winning game two shouldn’t be out of the question.
But at the end of the day, like we have said more times than I care to remember in our podcast, can the Maple Leafs rise to the occasion. Can they show the same commitment to blocking shots, digging for pucks and winning puck battles, can they repeat even if not 100% identical effort and structure from game one but a close comparison, if the answer is yes to all these questions, then it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that the Maple Leafs could be leading the series 2-0 heading into game three on Friday in Tampa.
It appears based on today’s practice that the Maple Leafs will be getting a welcomed reinforcement as injured winger Michael Bunting is on the mend and could be available for game two which should give a bolster to team already ridding high.
It is sunny in Leafs Nation today, let’s enjoy the shine of last night’s win but there is still much work to be done to close this series out for the boys in Blue and White.