By Stan Smith
I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue my Good, Bad, and Ugly theme into the playoffs.
The only thing that matters in the postseason is the win. Winning is Good. Losing is Bad. Losing like the Maple Leafs lost Game 1 is Ugly. After watching the Maple Leafs dominate Game 2 as they were dominated in Game 1I decided there were Good, Bad, and Ugly parts of the game to report.
The best thing about this game was the Maple Leafs’ came through when their backs were against the wall. First, there is the pressure on this team to finally win a playoff series. Then, after the debacle of Game 1, the pressure was enormous going into this game.
If their level of play in this game was the same as it was in Game 1, this team was most likely done. Not only done as far as the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs but done period.
But, perform they did.
In every game, you look for a player to make an impactful play, take the bull by the horns and make a difference. Mitch Marner wasted no time in doing so.
Thirty seconds into the game, Marner used his ability to read the play, create a turnover at the Tampa Bay blue line, and drew a tripping penalty. On the ensuing power play, rather than working the puck around Marner just gets it and shoots it. Less than a minute (47 seconds) into the game the score is 1-0 Toronto.
Marner would score a similar goal later in the game and assist on John Tavares’ second goal to give him three points in the game and six points in two games. In seven playoff games last season, Marner had two goals and eight points. After just two games this season, he already has two goals and six points.
Also, his four points on Toronto’s’ first four goals in this series mark the first time in the history of the Maple Leafs that a player has recorded a point on the team’s first four goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Morgan Rielly has not had the type of season in 2022-23 everyone had hoped he would. He has battled a couple of injuries and has gone through extended scoring droughts. For the first time in five regular seasons, he found himself in the negative in plus/minus, at minus-9.
Rielly was virtually invisible in Game 1 of the series.
Rielly was definitely visible in this game. He had the primary assist on all of Toronto’s first four goals in the game. That tied a record for the most assists by a Maple Leafs’ player and the most assists by a Maple Leafs’ defenseman in a playoff game. The first Toronto player to accomplish the feat was defenseman Ian Turnbull in 1976. It was duplicated in 1977 by Darryl Sittler, and again by Doug Gilmour in 1994.
Rielly’s four primary assists mark the third time in NHL history a defenseman has recorded four primary assists in a single playoff game and the first time in 35 years it has happened. The mark was set by Risto Siltanen in 1987, and equalled by Scott Stevens in 1988.
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John Tavares had the best playoff game of his career and became the first Maple Leafs’ player in 20 years to score a hat trick in a postseason game. The last Toronto player to do so was Alex Mogilny in 2003.
As he has done all season, Samsonov had a great bounce-back game following a loss. After the Maple Leafs took the 1-0 lead the Lightning pushed back and carried the play to Toronto. Samsonov had to make some nice saves during that period. After that, for the most part, the Maple Leafs did a great job of preventing Tampa Bay from penetrating the dangerous areas of the ice. Samsonov made the saves he had to make.
Mark Giordano did not figure into the scoring in this game and for the second game in a row, he was minus-2 in plus/minus. He did have a positive impact early on though. Giordano didn’t hesitate to drop the gloves and take on Zach Bogosian in a fight three minutes into the game.
It has been a long time since I have seen a crowd at a Toronto home game being so excited and so loud that it was impossible to hear the whistles. The Marner goal and the Giordano fight had the fans in a frenzy.
While Giordano is not known for fighting, it is interesting to note he has had ten fights in his career. The last one was as a Maple Leafs’ player against Kevin Hayes of the Philadelphia Flyers in November of 2022.
This kid appears to be the real thing. He, along with Aston-Reese and Luke Schenn, led the team in hits with five each. Knies does not shy away from the physical stuff. Just as importantly, he can handle the puck extremely well, especially in the difficult areas of the ice like in the corners or in front of the opposing goal. Knies came an inch from scoring an in-tight goal when he singlehandedly worked the puck from the corner to the front of the net and just failed to get a backhand up and over Andrei Vasileskiy’s left pad.
Knies did take two penalties in the game, a chintzy hooking call on Nick Paul in the first period and a more deserving slashing penalty on Haydn Fleury in the third. However, his overall impact on the game was positive. According to Naturalstattrick.com at five-on-five, Knies was on the ice for nine Shots For and only two Shots Against. As well, he was on for four High-Danger Chances For and only one Against. His Expected Goals For was 85% in the game.
With the Maple Leafs winning this game, it means that Michael Bunting will be back for at least one game in the series. It will be interesting to see if Knies can play well enough to out-earn one of the established forwards of a roster spot when that happens.
At the very least he is making a strong case for being in the starting lineup next season.
There is one thing that does surprise me about Knies’ game. While I have not seen a single college game he has played I have watched him play in a World Junior tournament and the Olympics. I have not seen his speed as evident as it has been in his first four games as a Maple Leafs’ player.
The Fourth Line
It is nice to see players’ reactions to scoring goals. But, players that are used to scoring sometimes don’t react, or they react as if they expected to score. It is great to see players’ reactions to scoring that aren’t expected to score.
When Zach Aston-Reese jammed the puck into the Tampa net to make the score 5-1, he, David Kampf, and Sam Lafferty celebrated like it was the Stanley Cup-winning goal. Maybe it was the fact they were out against the Stamkos, Kucherov, and Point line that got them that excited.
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The Best Were The Best
It has been said countless times before, for this team to succeed their best players had the be their best players. That was the case in this game. The team’s big four, Auston Matthews, Marner, Tavares, and William Nylander, along with Morgan Rielly accounted for six of the seven goals and a total of 14 points in this game.
Dominant At Five On Five
Although the Maple Leafs killed off all three of the shorthanded situations they found themselves in this game, it is becoming more obvious that the best way for this team to be successful in this series is to stay out of the penalty box.
According to Naturalstattrick.com despite losing game one 7-3, at five-on-five Toronto had 15 High-Danger Scoring Chances to Tampa’s six. In this game, they had 12 High-Danger Scoring Chances and once again limited Tampa to six. That is 27 High-Danger Chances For to 12 Against in the two games. The Maple Leafs have had 62% of the Expected Goals at five-on-five over the two games.
Also of note was the fact that, after scoring the game’s first goal on the game’s first shot, the Maple Leafs gave up the next seven shots before getting their second shot on the net. After going down 7-1 in shots Toronto outshot Tampa 36-15 throughout the rest of the game.
Phew! That was a lot of “Good.” I could easily end my post there. But, there is always some bad to go with the good.
Despite a great opening shift and scoring a goal on their first shot, once again the Maple Leafs had a slow start to this game. They went down 7-1 in shots before gaining their legs and taking the play to the Lightning. It would be great to see Toronto take it to Tampa right from the opening faceoff in the next game.
As true Maple Leafs’ fans, we don’t care to see tight-close games. We want to see them take it to the opposition right from the opening faceoff and make the game a stinker. While scoring a goal to win a game in overtime is exciting, it is way too stressful.
It feels unfair to put Auston Matthews in this section. He is not playing terribly and has four assists in the first two games. But, with the Maple Leafs hitting the twine ten times in the two games I would not have expected Matthews to have zero goals.
At five-on-five Matthews has been on the ice for as many goals against (2) in the series as he has been on the ice for (2). In this game, he had the worst Expected-Goals For on the team at just 36%. In all of the games in which I have studied the team’s analytics, I don’t recall Matthews ever having a team-worst Expected Goals. Also, according to Naturalstattrick.com at five-on-five Matthews was on the ice for zero High-Danger Scoring Chances For and three High-Danger Chances Against in this game.
By the eye test, Matthews is not playing badly, and he has four points in the two games. He is still getting involved in the scoring. But, Matthews has not been the dominant player we all know he can be.
Somebody, Please Stop Corey Perry
Despite playing on Tampa’s fourth line, Corey Perry leads the Lightning in scoring in the first two games. He has scored two goals and has four points in the series. After destroying Toronto with three points in Game 1, Perry once again scored a pretty, but meaningless goal, in this game.
I admire Perry’s ability to up his game in the playoffs, and the intensity he brings, especially against the Maple Leafs. But, I just wish he would go away.
Once the game was out of reach, rather than act like grown-ups and just finish out the game, the Lightning had to act like six-year-olds taking a temper tantrum, starting fights, and making life difficult for the adults. Maybe they were just embarrassed to be on the ice and felt they would rather be sitting it out, or in the locker room, relaxing.
The one thing the Lightning accomplished with the split in Toronto was to wrestle the home-ice advantage from the Maple Leafs. Tampa Bay made it a best-of-five series with three out of the five games in Tampa.
Now it is up to the Maple Leafs to return the favour. Better yet, go into Tampa Bay and take both games. Then come home and finish the series just so I can brag that my prediction of the Maple Leafs in five was right.
For the first time in what seems like forever, head coach Sheldon Keefe might start the next game with the same lineup he had in the previous game.
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