The Toronto Maple Leafs finally out shot an opponent, but in perfect Bizarro World form they lost the game. The Leafs seemed to be experiencing a bit of a letdown after clinching a playoff spot on Saturday night, and the Tampa Bay Lightning capitalized for a 5-2 win.
Toronto let an opportunity to move up in the standings slip away as winning out would have given them the fourth seed and home-ice advantage in the first round. They also had an outside shot at even winning the division title, but with tonight’s loss that is now going to be an uphill climb.
Here are a few things that stood out from the game.
Randy Carlyle’s affection for Kostka remains puzzling to many Leaf fans. It’s one thing to start him over Jake Gardiner and John-Michael Liles, but playing him 23 minutes, which easily led the team, is another. Kostka looks lost at times and although he finished plus-1, he made a costly mistake on Tampa’s second goal. The Leaf blueliner had the puck down low and instead of continuing the cycle, he fired a shot from a bad angle that ended up turning into a rush the other way, which Martin St. Louis eventually deposited in the back of the net.
Not making the simple play is what costs you in the playoffs and Kostka seems to panic with the puck here and there. Carlyle did say he wants to get everyone some action in these last few games to stay sharp, so perhaps we will see Kostka sit in favour of Gardiner or Liles tomorrow night.
Matt Frattin and Joe Colborne
Frattin and Colborne checked in tonight over Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren, and I liked what they brought to the table. The pair played a smart game by chipping the puck deep and generating a forecheck. I wrote recently that this lineup would make more sense in the post-season because fighting is rare, and Orr and McLaren don’t offer much outside of that.
Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis
The Leafs did a terrible job of containing Tampa’s big line because Stamkos and St. Louis combined for five goals and five points. Not only that, but both combined for a plus-9 rating and were on for every goal. Toronto knew if they shut down that group they probably would have won the game, however, the checking line of Jay McClement, Leo Komarov, and Mikhail Grabovski were not up to the task on this night. Slowing down a top line is only going to get tougher in the playoffs and if the Leafs can’t find a group of three that can handle the job, then a return to the post-season for Toronto will be a quick one.
Still plenty to play for
Although they have already clinched, these last few games are still crucial. As mentioned earlier fourth place is still a very real possibility if they win their last two games, so the Leafs will have to rebound quickly for tomorrow’s contest against the Panthers. A win there could mean a winner take all on Saturday for home-ice advantage against Montreal, depending on how they do Thursday against Winnipeg.