In their biggest game of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs folded like a cheap tent against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.
Heading into the game, many expected this to be a battle of the goaltenders. Both Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Toronto Maple Leafs Jack Campbell are having Vezina-candidate seasons, so a 2-1 or 3-2 game seemed like a smart prediction.
However, after the first period, the game was already tied 2-2 and the defensive struggles were on full display for the Leafs.
Despite outshooting the Lightning by 12 shots and looking pretty decent offensively, it was the same two demons that came back to haunt them. Their big boys got outperformed by their opponents big boys and the team was in shambles defensively.
Over the past few seasons, in the biggest moments, those have been the two underlying factors as to why they can’t advance past the first round. During the first four games of the Montreal Canadiens series last spring, the Leafs were in control. They played well defensively, limited scoring chances and scored timely goals.
Then, during the last three games, their core players couldn’t score and they had multiple turnovers that cost them the game. In Game 5 and in Game 6, it was two bad turnovers that resulted in overtime goals, which essentially gave the series to the Canadiens. The Toronto Maple Leafs weren’t winning Game 7, no matter how many times you prayed for it.
The same thing happened against Tampa last night.
Toronto Maple Leafs Fall in Biggest Game of the Season
If the Leafs want to eventually win a Stanley Cup, they’re more than likely going to have to get past Tampa in a playoff series. If last night showed us anything, it’s that they’re still not ready for that moment.
In big situations, the best players are supposed to show up. Steven Stamkos finished with one goal and three assists and was the best player on the ice, besides his netminder. First-line winger Ondrej Palat was also dominate, scoring two goals and adding an assist of his own.
Tampa’s best players were their best players, which is what’s necessary to win.
If you’re a Toronto fan, you could make the easy excuse of injuries/suspensions. Rasmus Sandin, Travis Dermott and Mitch Marner were out of the line-up due to injury and Jason Spezza was suspended, so let’s see what this team does against Tampa at full-strength.
You’d be delusional if you thought that because the Lightning were missing their two best players! Nikita Kucherov and Braydon Point (who are arguably top-10 players in the NHL), were both out of the line-up.
I know the Leafs were missing Marner, but this would be equivalent to Toronto missing both Marner and Auston Matthews. Without Marner and Matthews, the Leafs would have no chance to beat Tampa, but without Kucherov and Point, the Lightning still scored five goals and defeated the Leafs on the road.
Something has to give with Justin Holl. He’s last in Corsi For % and has looked like a player who was deserving of 70-plus healthy scratches a few years ago.
Watching him and Jake Muzzin together was like watching a clown show. They kept giving the puck away and were abysmal in their own end. They single-handedly cost Toronto the game and deserved to be broken up as a pair.
Once Sandin and Travis Dermott are back healthy, I expect Holl to be traded immediately.
Last but not least, within this rant, is my displeasure towards Auston Matthews. There’s no player I defend and love more than Papi, but only registering three (!!!) shots on net is a pathetic performance in the biggest game of the year.
When the lights shine the brightest, you need your best players to perform, and although William Nylander scored a fluke goal, the Leafs best players didn’t play up to their standards.
It’s nice to go on a winning streak and destroy bottom-feeder teams (sorry Colorado fans, but you had an AHL netminder in net when the Leafs scored eight) but it’s incredibly upsetting when they can’t win a big-game at home.
But at the end of the day, I guess it wouldn’t be a true Leafs season if they didn’t lose in the biggest game of the season, so I shouldn’t have expected anything different.