After not winning a first-round playoff series in 19 years, the Toronto Maple Leafs entered the 2022-23 postseason with something to prove. They had a strong 2022-23 regular season; and, at the trade deadline, the team’s organization worked hard to address the issues that had stopped them from gaining postseason success in past seasons.
In this post, I am going to take on the mantle of so many Maple Leafs’ fans in hoping (a) that the Maple Leafs will win tonight in Tampa Bay and (b) even more, I’m also hoping that the team does something unexpected. I’m hoping a blowout Game 6 win.
Such a win is something that every Maple Leafs fan would love to see. Basically, this is a story that many fans have wished for the past 11 games that the team has tried to win a game that could send them to the next level.
I’m engaging in a bit of creative fiction; and, by doing so writing about the Game 6 I’d like to see later today.
Here’s the background of the story.
The First-Round Series with the Lighting Begins Well
The Maple Leafs had bounced back from a horrible first game on their home ice to win three straight games from the Lightning. In Game 2 on home ice the Maple Leafs trounced the Lightning. However, back in Tampa Bay, the Maple Leafs had a harder go of it.
Still, the hockey gods smiled upon them and they were able to come back in two consecutive games from the brink of defeat. Surprisingly, the Maple Leafs beat the Lightning in both games on Tampa Bay’s home ice.
Returning to Toronto, and hoping to take the series four games to one, the Lightning showed why they were one of the top teams over the past five seasons. The Lightning rose up and beat the Maple Leafs in a hard fought game. They were led in that Game 5 by their world-class goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Game 6 (as a Maple Leafs’ Fan) I’m Dreaming to See
Now the Maple Leafs had to return to Tampa Bay with a bit of a shake in their confidence. Would they be able to beat the Lightning once more in Florida, or would they have to return to Toronto for a Game 7?
Warning: The story below is not a prediction. However, it is the hockey game I’d hope to watch play out in Tampa Bay’s own arena. As a hockey writer, I thought I’d take a minute to lay out a possibility of the dream game I’d love to see take place this coming Saturday night.
Here it is below. Remember, this game is a fictional account of a game that I’d like to see and it starts with the title I’d like to write.
Maple Leafs Finally Advance to Second Round with Blowout Victory Over the Lightning
It was Game 6 of the NHL first-round playoff series between the Maple Leafs and the Lightning. The Leafs were up three games to two games, but that didn’t mean it didn’t feel like it was a must-win game for them.
As Toronto began the game in Tampa Bay, the Lightning crowd rose up to drown out those Maple Leafs fans who were in the arena. The Lightning had won the Game 5 in Toronto, thanks in large part to their goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’d been unbeatable in net, stopping every shot but two that came his way.
The Toronto players knew that if they were going to win this game, they had to find a way to solve him. He was the best goalie in the world, and during their Game 5 in Toronto he had played like it. The Maple Leafs’ players believed they had to get some early goals on the board as a way to take the game away from the Lightning.
Game 6 Started Like the Others Had Started in the Series
The game started out as expected. Once again, the Lightning controlled the play and Vasilevskiy made some incredible saves. But then, in the second period, the Maple Leafs finally broke through.
Matthew Knies, a rookie forward who was playing in only his eighth NHL game since he was signed fresh out of the University of Minnesota, scored his first NHL goal. It was a beautiful play, with Knies taking a no-look pass from Mitch Marner and firing a high wrist shot over Vasilevskiy’s blocker.
The goal ignited the Maple Leafs, and they began to play with a newfound confidence. Michael Bunting, the pesky forward who had been booed as soon as he took the Tampa Bay ice after serving a three-game suspension for his penalized play in Game 1, scored two quick goals on the same shift to give the Maple Leafs a surprising 3-0 lead.
Samsonov Was Up to the Task in Goal
But the Lightning weren’t going to go down without a fight. They came at the Maple Leafs in waves. However, Ilya Samsonov was up to the task. The Maple Leafs’ netminder had allowed two shaky goals in Game 5. However, tonight he was playing like the goalie Maple Leafs’ fans had hoped he might be after he was signed in the previous offseason.
Samsonov made save after save, keeping the Lightning off the board and frustrating their players and fans. The Maple Leafs were playing with confidence, believing they had a strong goalie behind them. They even ignored the Lightning’s increasingly physical play without retaliation.
In a desperate move, the Lightning pulled Vasilevsky in the final five minutes of the game, hoping to mount a comeback. But the Maple Leafs’ defense held strong, and Samsonov made two incredible saves to preserve his shutout.
The Maple Leafs Celebrated Like They Hadn’t in Almost 20 Seasons
As the final horn sounded, the Maple Leafs celebrated their 3-0 victory. They had solved Vasilevsky and shut down the Lightning’s offense. Thanks to a strong performance by Samsonov and some timely scoring by Knies and Bunting, they had finally moved on to the second round.
Maple Leafs’ fans back in Toronto went crazy. Many had been dreaming of a game like this for almost two decades. Their team delivered. They dominated the former Stanley Cup champions on their own ice.
Round two was coming, but the team had accomplished something very special with its first-round win. They were fired up and ready to do it again.
The Maple Leafs were back in the Stanley Cup hunt. Perhaps, anything was possible.