By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs gutted out a 4-3 overtime win in Tampa Bay to take a 2-1 lead in their playoff series against the Lightning.
The most important “Good” takeaway from this game is Toronto won. I can’t say they didn’t deserve to win. They did score four goals, which should be good enough to win 90% of the games they play. I will say they could have very easily lost this game.
Morgan Rielly has played a key role in both Maple Leafs’ wins in this series. In their first win, he set a team record with primary assists on the team’s first four goals in the game. In this game he not only scored the winning goal with 45 seconds left in the first overtime period, but he also had a key shot block to prevent a Lightning scoring chance, and he laid a perfect hit on Brayden Point. That hit, and what followed, might be looked back at as a key point in this series.
Morgan Rielly doesn’t have a chance to score the game-winning overtime goal if not for Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly also made a key block late in the game to keep the Maple Leafs within a goal. He scored the game-tying goal that sent the game into overtime with one minute left in the third period and his own goalie pulled for an extra attacker. Then, he cleanly won the faceoff and drew the puck back to Rielly on the winning goal.
O’Reilly does not score the game-tying goal nor does Rielly score the game-winning goal if not for stellar goaltending by Ilya Samsonov. After giving up two goals on the first eight shots he faced, including one with 32 seconds left in the first period, Samsonov stood tall. He held the Lightning to just one goal on the next 31 shots including eight shots in overtime.
Samsonov made some huge saves in the last two periods and overtime to give the Maple Leafs a chance to win this game. According to Naturalstattrick.com seven of the eight Lightning shots in overtime were High-Danger Scoring Chances.
Did Samsonov steal this game? I’m not sure. Was Samsonov better than Andrei Vasilevskiy in this game? Definitely.
Mitch Marner increased his lead in NHL playoff scoring with two assists in the game. He now has eight points in three games, two more than the Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl and the Rangers’ Adam Fox.
Marner has as many goals (two) and points (eight) in the first three games of the playoffs as he had in all seven games last season. He’s now one point shy of a point-a-game pace in the playoffs in his career, with 41 points in 42 games. Of the Maple Leafs’ players with 20 or more games played in their careers, only Doug Gilmour managed a point-a-game pace or better. He had 77 points in 52 games played.
Marner becomes the third-fastest Maple Leafs’ player to reach 40 points in the postseason. Gilmour did it in 24 games. Mat Sundin did it in 39 games.
After assisting on Noel Acciari’s goal to open the scoring, Matthew Knies was rewarded by being moved up in the lineup later in the game. He played the latter half of the game and the overtime alongside John Tavares and William Nylander. While he had some struggles defensively, he was once again strong with the puck.
Before the playoffs started, many experts in the media were predicting that Luke Schenn would be, at best, a depth option for the Maple Leafs.
He has been so much more than that. Schenn has played a full-time role in the playoffs and averaged almost 18 minutes a game. He has been on the ice for four goals for and only one goal against in all situations. At five-on-five, he has been on the ice for 64% of the High Danger Scoring Chances (16 for, 9 against)
Even more important is his effect on Morgan Rielly’s play. In his career, Rielly has been all about his partner. When he’s playing with someone he feels he can depend upon to do the heavy lifting defensively, it allows him to play to his offensive strengths. Rielly has played some of the best hockey of his career in this series. Schenn has played an important role in that.
The baddest thing about this game was how the Maple Leafs allowed the Lightning to carry the play for most of the game. For the first time in this series, Tampa dominated the five-on-five play. They had 66% of the Shot Attempts and 61% of the Shots. They also had 65% of the Scoring Chances and 66% of the Expected Goals.
The Maple Leafs struggled to get the puck out of their zone and spent many shifts either chasing the puck or icing the puck. At the other end, many of their forays into the Lightning zone were one-and-done.
Sheldon Keefe stated he felt the team did “bend but not break” and defended well despite the territorial advantage held by the Lightning. The five-on-five High Danger Scoring Chances backed up Keefe’s assessment. They were listed at 10-10 after three periods, and 17-13 overall.
After Morgan Rielly took Brayden Point into the boards early in the third period, causing Point to fall awkwardly and appear to be hurt, pandemonium broke out. Nikita Kucherov jumped Rielly, O’Reilly jumped Kucherov, and even Steven Stamkos and Auston Matthews got into fisticuffs.
Toronto fans collectively held their breath when a major penalty was called on Rielly for the hit. That seemed strange as there did not appear to be a call being signalled when the hit first happened.
It turned out that the reasoning behind the calling of the major was to take advantage of a recent rule change allowing for a video review of potential five-minute penalties.
Following the review, which showed that Rielly had a good position on Point on the hit and that it was not from behind, no penalty was called on the hit. While Lightning fans might not have been happy about it, the video review showed that it was the correct call.
An interesting sidebar was that it was the first time in the history of the NHL that two former 60-goal scorers engaged in a fight. It was the seventh fight of Stamkos’ career and the first for Matthews. Keefe did state after the game that, while it was not good to lose Matthews for five minutes, it was good to see him stand up for himself.
Point did go to the locker room but returned shortly thereafter and finished the game appearing none the worse for wear.
The two teams go back at it in Tampa on Monday night. My prediction of the Maple Leafs in five still has a chance. For that to happen, Toronto will have to find a way to counter the Lightning’s ferocious forecheck.
I would expect Keefe to tinker with his lines some more.
Tampa has to be demoralized with the way this game ended as the win was in their grasp. The Maple Leafs have to find a way to take advantage of that.