The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning will face off against each other in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second season in a row. In this post, I’ll discuss the key areas that the team must address if it can finally get over the hump and advance to the second round of the playoffs.
The Maple Leafs Are Favored, and Rightfully So
This postseason, the Lightning and the Maple Leafs’ first-round meeting carries with it a bit of a different narrative. The Maple Leafs are favoured to win. They’ve for sure had the better season. And, as the season went along, there were times that the Lightning team simply looked mortal.
As well, the Maple Leafs’ Core Four really did have good seasons. Auston Matthews’ goals were down, but he still got 40. William Nylander also scored 40 for the first time in his career. Mitch Marner came just a point short of the century mark. And, the ageless John Tavares still delivered and scored his career-high of 18 goals on the power play.
Still, Tampa Bay is an experienced team with talented players. The Maple Leafs need to eliminate mistakes to beat them. Specifically, they need to limit turnovers, have good puck management, and finally beat Andrei Vasilevskiy. As a goalie, he might be one of the best in the business – ever – when the stakes are high.
Still, during their last regular-season game, the Maple Leafs out-goalied him. So, it can be done.
Ultimately, the Maple Leafs must manage their mistakes and find ways to win the series to break their postseason drought.
Four Battles the Maple Leafs Must Win
There are four battles the Maple Leafs need to win to beat the Lightning in these playoffs.
First, the Maple Leafs must limit the effectiveness of Tampa’s top three forwards, who have accounted for 41% of the Lightning’s goals this season.
Second, they must keep left to avoid facing Tampa’s strong left-side defensemen and target the weaker right side.
Third, the Maple Leafs’ depth must beat the Lightning’s depth to avoid a repeat of last season’s game-seven loss.
Last, Maple Leafs’ goalie Ilya Samsonov must carry over his regular-season success into the playoffs.
If the Maple Leafs can win these four battles, they have a good chance of winning the opening round of the playoffs.
The Bottom Line for the Maple Leafs
I believe the Maple Leafs have a better team than the Lightning based on their regular-season play. However, they need to exploit every possible advantage they can get to succeed in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They must focus on limiting the effectiveness of Tampa’s top three forwards, target the weaker side of Tampa’s defence, get secondary scoring from their depth forwards, and capitalize on Samsonov’s regular-season success.
Toronto has a good chance of winning the opening round of the playoffs, something they haven’t done in almost two decades. Is this the Maple Leafs’ best chance to achieve playoff success?