Maple Leafs defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning to advance to the Second Round

Well Leafs Nation, the Toronto Maple Leafs exercised some demons and advance to the second round for the first time since 2004. How sweet it is. After having a moment to savor the momentous victory 2-1 in overtime of game 6 of their first round match up against Tampa Bay. It’s time to prepare for the next step as business is far for done. Toronto shown a lot of character and maintain an even keel throughtout the series as there was large segments of games where they were outclassed by Tampa. However, Toronto ended up on the right side of the outcome. This was something that in previous iterations of this group would not be the case. Yet this group was determined to change that narrative.

This core has been criticized the last few years for not being “X Factors” and leading this group. But this year each of the core players all elevated their games. The core five combined for 42 points in the six games against the Lightning. Marner led the way with 2 goals and 9 assists for 11 points. Auston Matthews had 5 goals and 4 assists. Morgan Rielly had 3 goals and 5 assist for 8 points. Wily Nylander and the Leafs Captain Tavares chipped in 7 points as piece. That’s just the offensive side of the score sheet each of the core players made their presence known both physically and defensively as well. You seen this throughout the lineup. Auston Matthews leading by example stepping infront of shots on a regular basis. Seeing your franchise cornerstone center sacrificing himself trickles down as you seen the rookie Matthew Knies doing the same. Active sticks were another key facet for the success they had against Tampa. Blocking passes and forcing giveaways were a big contributor to the Leafs success. Ryan O’Rielly led the way with 10 takeaways, while Matthews, Rielly, Nylander and Marner all had 7 takeaways as well.

Toronto played a great team defensive game overall even with some key members of the D-corp that had uncharacteristically bad series. TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano both had less then stellar stretches throughout the series. Gio ended up finishing a minus 6. Brodie was able to finish the series at a plus 1 however there was much to be desired in his play. There were times where he seemed off. Making bad decisions and forcing passes. At times he just looked lost and a bit panicked which is the polar opposite of what we’ve come to expected. Brodie looked to buck that trend in game six as he helped carry his pairing for the majority of game six. This is where I expect his game will return to the form that has made him a stalwart for Toronto. Same with Gio, there were times that he was out of his depths. Which may not entirely be his fault as his partner Justin Holl was horrendous finishing the series with a minus 7 and watched game six from the press box. However, Timothy Liljegren and Erik Gustafsson who drew in for game six looked good in their series debuts.

Another key contributor was the “Factor” himself Ryan O’Rielly. He chipped in 2 goals and 5 assists for 7 points as well, tying him with John Tavares and William Nylander. Another contributor that can’t be overlooked as well is the young star in the making Matthew Knies. He contributed 3 assists and was a plus 4 in the 5 games he suited up for in. His solid play on both sides of the puck did not go unnoticed as Head Coach Keefe had the youngster out in key moments late games including being on the ice for each of the three overtime game winning goals in Tampa Bay. He did not shy away from the physical aspect as he had 11 hits in the series. Knies was even elevated to the top line in the series clinching game six as well. High praise for a guy that had was only playing in his 8th career NHL game.

So much can be said to of the performance of Ilya Samsonov. He too exercised playoff demons as he entered this series with a 1-6 career record. All with the Capitals. He’s now 5-8 for his young career but he out dueled the two time cup champion and perennial Vezina candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy. He did something that previous netminders in the last 6 years couldn’t do. He stole games for the Leafs. He pulled a Grant Fuhr. Yes he gave up more goals then we liked. But he did not give up that last goal that would be the back backer. He made the timely saves and had some help. Thank you Matthew Knies! But at the end of the day he outdueled his counterpart and now looks to build off of this. Sammy was by far the MVP of the first round for Toronto. As the series wore on his confidence seemed to build and you could see it in the series clincher. This only can bode well for the Maple Leafs.

All of this said there will still be those that will discredit the Maple Leafs. Even after advancing into the second round. But at this time, we must enjoy the moment. As stated before the work is far from done. But for the first time in 19 years our Toronto Maple Leafs are moving on to the second round. With the match up now set and we now know Toronto will face the Florida Panthers starting Tuesday. Much can be said that this is a favorable match up for the Maple Leafs. Even having the odds makers anointing them the odds on Cup favourites. There work is far from being done. We can not put the cart before the horse. But it’s hard not to feel good for what lies ahead. Bring it on.