The Toronto Maple Leafs will begin their first-round playoff series on Monday night. They will faceoff in a best of seven against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will be looking to break the curse of first-round exits that have plagued them for the past few seasons. They have the tough task of playing against the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions.
After a regular season that witnessed the team set new franchise records for wins, home wins, and points, the Leafs will be looking for playoff success. A lot goes into winning a playoff series, and this Toronto team has the pieces. Fans will be hoping that these pieces are the right ones.
Toronto has a good mixture of skill, leadership, toughness, and overall depth. They will also start the playoffs with an almost healthy lineup. Having a healthy lineup for the playoffs, where you need to win 16 games, is very important.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Round One
Many things need to go right in a playoff series to come out as the winner. With everything on the line, each game becomes harder to win. Here are the key areas that will help Toronto win their first-round series against the Lightning.
Scoring From Star Players
Toronto will need its star players to score as frequently as they did during the regular season. Players such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander all set new career highs in goals. All eyes will be on them to see how they perform in the playoffs.
Marner and Matthews being on one line will be contested a lot. Having John Tavares and Nylander on separate lines will be a benefit. Those four players will need to find ways to score as fans will be expecting them to justify their large salaries.
The star players will not be able to score all the goals. The Maple Leafs will need their depth players to score as well. Players such as Alex Kerfoot, Ilya Mikheyev, Michael Bunting (when healthy), Ondrej Kase, and Pierre Engvall will need to chip in with as many goals as possible.
Just like some of the stars, Engvall, Mikheyev and Bunting also had a career year in goals scored. Secondary scoring is just as important as getting goals from your top players. A team such as Tampa knows how much it helps, and now Toronto wants to see it help them.
The Toronto Maple Leafs finished the regular season with the NHL’s best power play at 27.27%. They also finished the regular season with the 8th best penalty kill at 82.05%. Both of these will need to be successful to win the series.
If Toronto goes on the power play, they need to make Tampa pay for it by scoring. Likewise, Toronto will need to shut down the Tampa power play when they get one. Special teams can make or break a series, and Toronto wants to be on the right side of a series for once.
The group of defensemen that Toronto is starting this series with is the best group the team has had in recent years. Considering that Rasmus Sandin and Justin Holl are the extras is a clear example of Toronto’s defensive depth.
This is what the Toronto Maple Leafs defense pairings will look like for game one.
Morgan Rielly – Ilya Lyubushkin
Jake Muzzin – T.J. Brodie
Mark Giordano – Timothy Liljegren
That group is solid and has all the elements in their game that help their defense partner. The Muzzin and Brodie line will likely get used as a shutdown pair against Tampa’s top line. Defensemen such as Lyubushkin and Muzzin will be relied on for their physical play through the playoffs.
Jack Campbell finished the regular season with a 31-9-6 record with a .914 SV% and a 2.64 GAA. Campbell will be looking for redemption after losing in the first round last year. His play to end the season was really well, and Toronto will be hoping that play continues.
Campbell will need to make the big saves to either hold the lead or keep Toronto in the game. Fans know what might happen if Campbell’s confidence dips after letting in a weak goal. He will be hoping that never happens.
Players such as Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford will be looking to keep Tampa in line. They will help Toronto set the tone for this series, as both will likely be in the lineup for game one. The Toronto Maple Leafs can not afford to get pushed around. Others such as Muzzin, Lyubushkin, and Bunting will also show their physical play.
If Toronto gets the most out of all of these things, they should be able to win this series against Tampa. If everything goes well in the first two games on home ice, I don’t see why Toronto can not win the series. My round one prediction is that Toronto will win the series in five games.