Game 1 seemed easy and the Toronto Maple Leafs won 5-0. Game 2 seemed harder, and the Tampa Bay Lightning won 5-3. The series is tied one game each as it heads to Florida for Game 3 on Friday night.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ takeaways, I’ll look at what I believe are three key points from the game and comment on these as the two teams move forward in their round-one series.
Takeaway One: The Maple Leafs First Line Is the Real Deal
Last night was Micheal Bunting’s first postseason game. He scored. The Maple Leafs’ first line was not the reason the team lost Game 2. In fact, this postseason is already far different from the last postseason. Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews have shown up to play.
Marner seems to have changed his philosophy from last season. Matthews isn’t suffering quietly from a wrist or hand injury. And, Bunting really adds value to the first-line partnership.
Specifically, you have to think that after the last postseason’s shutdown of the first line by the Montreal Canadiens, a player with the hockey IQ that Marner has must sit back and take stock of how he can best play with his talented on-ice partner. He had to realize it wasn’t good enough to just feed Matthews the puck over and over again and expect good things to always happen.
During the 2021 regular season, Marner began to assert his own scoring abilities. He put together a career season where he scored 35 goals and added 62 assists (for 97 points) in only 72 games played. He’s continuing that good play and scored another goal last night and assisted on a second.
Bunting, Marner, and Matthews have shown up to play in this series. Matthews has already doubled his goal-scoring output this postseason over last, and he is playing well. In the series, he has scored two goals and added three assists (for five points) already in two games.
Takeaway Two: The Extra Stuff After the Plays Needs to End
The Maple Leafs lost Game 2 because they made poor decisions. The poorest decisions were how to engage those redundant Lighting physical engagements after plays ended. It always seemed as if Patrick Maroon (and his friends) were always getting into goalie Jack Campbell’s grill or dishing out a little crosscheck to someone immediately after every play ended.
These little engagements were never enough to draw a penalty; however, they seemed to taunt the Maple Leafs’ players into responses that DID draw penalties. That kind of play – I admit – is a part of the game I hate, but it’s part of the postseason that doesn’t seem to soon go away.
The Maple Leafs’ players won’t win this series if they don’t react more intelligently. Last night, they didn’t read the refs well, which Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe admitted after the game. The “refs set the standard early;” however, his team didn’t do a good job “responding.”
He was right. Doing the simple math, the game’s final score was 5-3 in favor of the Lightning. Tampa Bay scored three goals with the man advantage. That was the difference in the game. The Lightning made by the Maple Leafs pay for these bad decisions. The simple answer is – as my father used to tell me – “Don’t do stupid stuff.” Last night the Maple Leafs did “stupid stuff.”
Takeaway Three: This Is Going to Be a Great Series
In my heart of hearts, being a Maple Leafs’ fan, I wanted the team to sweep every series on their way to the Stanley Cup. Now, after the Game 2 loss, they won’t.
I know that’s what makes the Stanley Cup so tough to win. The teams playing are good teams, and there will be losses along the way for any NHL team that wins the Cup.
The Maple Leafs have a strong team. They can compete against the best teams in the NHL. The Lightning also has a good team. Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, and Steven Stamkos are great players. Andrei Vasilevskiy is a great goalie.
But the Maple Leafs can play smarter, better, and can compete. The team is good from the top to the bottom. This is going to be a good series, and it’s likely to go back-and-forth.
I believe the Maple Leafs can win.
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