By Stan Smith
I can’t believe that happened.
When I watch a game, I watch it to the end because you simply never know what will happen. There is always a chance you might see history being made. On that note, I wonder how many people shut the game off and went to bed with the Lightning up 4-1 almost halfway through the third period?
To them I have to say, it sucks to be you. You missed one of the best comeback wins in the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs came back to win in overtime by a score of 5-4.
The biggest “Bad” in this game was that it appeared the Maple Leafs thought the way they played for the majority of Game 3 was some kind of magic formula to win games. For the first 50 minutes, this game looked like a carbon copy of that one. The Maple Leafs were spending countless shifts just trying to get out of their own zone, and getting completely smothered by the relentless forecheck of the Lightning.
Then, when they did get it into the neutral zone the same thing was happening there. Lightning players seemed to be everywhere just waiting to intercept passes and knock down pucks. On the rare occasion, the Maple Leafs made it into the Tampa zone, they seldom got more than one scoring chance before the puck would get moved in the other direction.
The Maple Leafs Got Outworked
It wasn’t as much that Tampa outplayed the Maple Leafs through the first two-and-a-half periods of the game. It was more they outworked them and seemingly won all the little battles. They then took advantage of their chances when they got them.
As for the Maple Leafs, turnovers, bad reads, bad penalties, defensive breakdowns, and less-than-stellar goaltending led to a 4-1 lead by the Lightning. The Maple Leafs looked like they might settle for a split in Tampa.
The biggest “Ugly” in this game were the thoughts going through my head about all of the bad and ugly things I was going to write about this morning. My ugly thoughts even went beyond that. I was starting to wonder what this team was going to look like next season if this series kept going in the direction it seemed to be going.
Where was Kyle Dubas going to end up? Who would the next GM for the Maple Leafs be? How many of the Maple Leafs’ big four forwards were going to be gone?
Then Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander combined for a beautiful three-way passing play that was finished off by Matthews finding open ice in the slot and beating Andrei Vasilevskiy on his high blocker side.
Exactly a minute later Alex Kerfoot made up for a horrendous giveaway in his own zone on Tampa’s second goal by drawing a penalty on Zach Bogosian. The referees had a choice on the play. At the same time Bogosian was hauling down Kerfoot, Ian Cole was doing the same thing to Noel Acciari on the other side.
The Maple Leafs Begin Their Comeback
The Maple Leafs made good on the ensuing power play. Matthews scored his second goal of the game, this time on a tip of a Nylander shot, making the score 4-3 Tampa.
Just over three minutes later, Morgan Rielly scored his second clutch goal in as many games. Once again he does it on a wrist shot from the point that goes over Vasilevskiy’s right shoulder.
A Turnaround in Overtime for the Maple Leafs
For the second game in a row, the Maple Leafs take the game into overtime. In Game 3 it was the Lightning that were all over the Maple Leafs in the extra frame. They created seven High-Danger Scoring Chances before Rielly ended the game. This time the Maple Leafs carried the play in overtime. They outshot the Lightning 6-1.
Just over two minutes into the fourth period Nylander was rewarded for his tenacity with the puck when he was taken down in the slot by Mikhail Sergachev. It appeared that Tampa was going to kill off the penalty. The Maple Leafs’ first unit created little in the first minute and a half with the man advantage.
With just over 30 seconds left in the power play, the second unit came over the boards and managed to get set up in the Lightning zone. After working the puck around the perimeter, Nylander got the puck over to Mark Giordano at the point. Matthew Knies and Kerfoot headed for the front of the net. Kerfoot got his stick on Giordano’s waist-high wrister from the point and deflected it past Vasilevskiy for the win.
It was Kerfoot’s first point of the playoffs.
Suddenly the Maple Leafs Big Guns Went Off
This was the first time the Maple Leafs have won back-to-back overtime games in the playoffs since 2017 when they had two OT wins over the Washington Capitals.
For 50 minutes in this game, Matthews, Marner, and Nylander created nothing. Then in 15 and a half minutes, Matthews scored two goals, Nylander has three assists, and Marner had two assists.
Depth scoring also played a key role in this game. Acciari opened the scoring for the Maple Leafs with assists from Ryan O’Reilly and Justin Holl. Giordano assisted on Matthews’ 4-3 goal as well as the game-winner. And of course, Kerfoot scored the winning goal.
The teams get a rare two days between games as they head back to Toronto for game five on Thursday night. With the momentum the Maple Leafs have I would have rathered they played the game Tuesday night.
After thinking my prediction of the Maple Leafs in five was done, it still lives. This next game is going to be the hardest game to win this team has seen in twenty years. If they can pull it off, they not only get so many demons off their back, they would get some rest before having to face another demon.
It appears the Boston Bruins are on the verge of advancing to the second round (they lead Florida 3-1 and are going back to Boston for Game 5).