3. Play Away from the Puck
The Toronto Maple Leafs had an amazing forecheck last night, managing to mess up the Lightning’s breakout plays as they made life miserable for the puck carrier. As the Lightning tried to make cross-ice passes, the Maple Leafs had an active stick and kept the lanes covered.
Something that caught my attention was how fast they were to backcheck. Earning giveaways from the Lightning is no easy feat, yet the Leafs forced a shocking 12 from them. This was, again, from their superb defensive system and formation in defending the rush.
The Leafs have that sandpaper in your lineup that you need to win. One of the main problems last season and the years before that was that the Leafs seemed to be physically intimidated by the opposition.
The Boston Bruins bullied them two seasons in a row, the Washington Capitals did the same in 2017, and the Leafs haven’t won a series in five seasons. However, things are starting to look up as they were prepared to play a gritty style last night, but managed to force the Lightning to play their style instead.
What do I mean? The Lightning thrive off of physicality, you can see that up and down their lineup. They grind opponents down and tire them out while their star players take over the game offensively. The Toronto Maple Leafs were prepared to play this style, but the way they forced the Lightning into uncomfortable situations. The Lightning were down 4-2 and had to find offense, falling into the skill game and few teams in the league can match the Leafs in that aspect.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had an amazing showing last night, thoroughly dominating the opposition in every facet of the game.
They forced the Lightning to play their skill and speed focused style, and made sure to capitalize on their mistakes. Matthews and Marner are an insane combination, with an elite playmaker and the best sniper in the league terrorizing the opposition.
Jack Campbell played amazingly, making sure that he made the stops his team needed, and the defense made life much easier for him with their positioning and willingness to block shots.
This should be very encouraging going into the final stretch. The star players are willing to play tough hockey to win important games, the system shows that it can match the best in the league. They have the chance to prove that they are a Stanley Cup contender yet again with a game against the division-leading Florida Panthers tonight.
The Eastern Conference will be a bloodbath once again, but the Maple Leafs are a serious contender to make it out of the Atlantic division gauntlet.