The Toronto Maple Leafs won Game Five on home-ice, and it was probably the best game I’ve ever watched as a Leafs fan.
To qualify that, I’ve been watching the Toronto Maple Leafs play (mostly losing) hockey for over 30 years, and I write about them daily, including the summer when I have to come on here and talk about why they lost, how they lost, if they’ll ever win, etc.
Additionally, I’ve stuck up for this version of the team a lot because I truly do believe that they are on the right track, and that they have only failed to get further than they have to this point because of bad luck.
So as down as I was when it was 2-0 Tampa, I was 100x more excited when they won. So excited I couldn’t sleep so I spent three hours organizing my movie collection.
Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews Come Up Big in Biggest Game
Obviously Jack Campbell was the main reason the Leafs were able to mount a comeback, but in Game Four Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews had one shot each, and so this game was always going to be about them. (stats naturalstattrick.com).
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are forwards, and so it is very rare that they would lead the team in ice time, but that is exactly what happened last night. They were both approaching 24 minutes and two more minutes than anyone else.
One of the stupidest things about hockey is how coaches give more ice time to the 4th defenseman than the top forward, and so this was a welcome change. Credit Keefe for a smart decision here.
In 12 5v5 minutes paired where Matthews and Marner were on the ice together, the Leafs attempted 21 shots for, while allowing six shots against. That’s a puck possession rating of nearly 80% and way past the threshold for what is considered “dominant.”
Shots under these circumstances were 10-4 Leafs, and scoring chances were 13-2.
In total, Matthews had one goal, and Mitch Marner just one assist, while they only combined to put six shots on the net. That in itself doesn’t sound that great, but overall, these guys played for 24 minutes, just under half a game, and Tampa barely touched the puck in that time.
Considering all the scrutiny these guys have faced, it’s important to note that in the most important game either of them ever played, they were almost perfect. Only luck and a good goalie prevented them from making the game into a blowout.
Matthews, Marner, and Campbell were basically perfect, which then allows the depth of the rest of the team to really show. When the first line is killing their minutes, it makes it a lot easier for Tavares and Nylander to rack up points (they combined for two goals and five points).
The Toronto Maple Leafs have two chances to win the series now, but I believe they’ll only need the one. Worst case scenario is that they took the back-to-back champs to game seven and bowed out due to a ridiculous first round matchup.
The win last night assured a successful season, but it also only forecasted just how good this team can be. The irony is that they can now go all the way to the Finals without playing a team as good as the one they faced in the first round.