This is not the same Toronto Maple Leafs’ team of seasons past. The Game 3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning showed that they can hang around and hang around and, eventually, steal a postseason win. In any other season, it seems, this game would have turned into burned toast for the Blue & White.
With the series tied at 1-1 and the Lightning pressing hard, the Maple Leafs still found a way to tie Game 3 in regulation and then win in overtime. Credit two (actually four) players. First, thanks to Ryan O’Reilly’s game-tying goal (from a great pass and play from William Nylander) and Morgan Rielly’s game-winner (thanks to his defensive partner Luke Schenn for making his offensive prowess possible).
That’s four players and good teamwork.
Related: Key Points in the Heated Series Between Maple Leafs and Lightning
Now, Time to Up the Pace for Game 4
Before they return home for Game 5, the Maple Leafs could take a stranglehold on this series. All they need to do is set the pace in Game 4 and take it to the Lightning. Given how the series has emerged, the Maple Leafs should have a ton of confidence heading into Game 4.
Despite the Lightning’s playoff success in winning the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021, Toronto finds themselves in a spot where they could actually head home with a chance to wrap the series up. Talk about a way to galvanize this team with the fans. Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe emphasized that the team needs to play better than they have in the previous games … no one’s arguing.
The Maple Leafs Are Dominating the Physical Part of the Series
The Maple Leafs might not be winning the territorial advantage, but they are dominating the series against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the physical department. For a group of players who have for so many seasons been labelled as soft, they are starting to play whack-a-mole with the Lightning’s roster.
When this first-round series began, I was worried that it might be a war. That’s the way the Lightning played last season. After every whistle a scrum, a cross-check, a look-at-my-stick-up-close opportunity. Not quite egregious enough and far too many to call.
And, so far it has been that way again. But, in this series, the Maple Leafs have been giving as much as they are getting.
In Game 3, the Lightning Won the Territory But Lost the Battle
In addition, the Maple Leafs have been systematically and literally knocking down its opposition – player by player. An argument can be made that the Lightning had to win Game 3 in Tampa Bay because they might not have enough healthy bodies to finish the series if it goes too long. Give the Lightning credit. They show up strong. But can they win by showing up at far less than 100 percent?
Yes, the Lightning had a huge territorial advantage in Game 3; and, perhaps yes as well they deserved to win the game because they outplayed the Maple Leafs.
But they didn’t win. And, now the Maple Leafs are in a strong position to connect Tampa Bay to life support by taking a 3-1 lead in the series and pushing the Lightning into an elimination game on Thursday back in Toronto.
If that happens, you can bet the fans will be up for it. First, I’d like to have the Maple Leafs win this series. Second, I’d like them to take the next two games and win them at home.
Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: O’Reilly, Knies, Rielly & Acciari
Injuries Have Cut Down the Lightning
As Howard Berger pointed out earlier today when he wrote about the Maple Leafs’ physicality, the Lightning sustained significant injuries to three critically important members of their team. Those three are Victor Hedman, Erik Cernak, and Brayden Point. Hedman had to sit for part of Game 1 and then for the entire Game 2. He was back for Game 3, but how healthy is he?
Here’s where we stand right now. The Maple Leafs jittered around to a huge loss in Game 1; but, they came back with a resounding effort in Game 2. They won ugly in Game 3. With a series lead, there’s a real opportunity for this team to take a stranglehold with a win in Game 4.
Imagine If the Maple Leafs Won Tonight
Should the Maple Leafs win tonight, it would be one step closer for a team that wants nothing more than to give Maple Leafs’ fans a legacy. The team could go far toward improving memories and stopping the further heartbreak that comes with failing in the first round.
It’s still early in the playoffs, but this Maple Leafs’ team is showing something we haven’t seen much from them over past seasons – composure. Teams that are successful in the long run will win when they probably shouldn’t have.
The Lightning did it to the Maple Leafs during the 2021-22 postseason. Could it be the Maple Leafs’ turn this week?