Toronto Maple Leafs: Do You Feel Lucky? Leafs and Tampa Game 6

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning have played 5 games of their opening round Stanley Cup playoff series, and they are in a virtual dead-heat statistically.

Goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs: 21.  Goals for the Tampa Bay Lightning: 20.  Shots per game for Toronto: 32.4, shots per game for Tampa Bay: 32.8 (stats per  We could dig deeper and look at the Corsi numbers for the Leafs forwards or the faceoff percentages for the Lightning centres.

We could even endlessly quote poor Justin Holl’s goals for/against in all situations (that would be 14-2 the bad way, but who’s counting?).

What do all of these numbers add up to?  Nothing. Nada. Zilch.  The only statistic that matters is that the Toronto Maple Leafs are up 3 games to 2.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Do You Feel Lucky? Leafs and Tampa Game 6

Even though I’m definitely a numbers guy, numbers are only meaningful over a large sample size (at least a season, probably more).  In a hard-fought playoff series such as this, I rely on the good ol’ eye test.  And what do my bespectacled peepers tell me?

Games 1 and 2, both being blowouts, obviously went to the better team.  Games 3 and 4, I have to be honest and admit the Toronto Maple Leafs should not have won either.  Game 5, although the Lightning were statistically better and outplayed the Leafs overall, if it weren’t for Andrei Vasilevskiy stopping so many high-danger opportunities, Toronto wins and closes out the series.

In summary, Tampa has looked better than Toronto in 4 of 5 games, yet Toronto holds a 3-2 edge. Meaning that luck (in the form of puck bounces, timely saves, untimely penalties, and other assorted randomized happenings that occur in every game) has played its part.

Strategy and preparation are important parts of a long playoff run, but the best a coach can do is maximize his team’s chances of success.

So by all means, Sheldon Keefe should take Justin Holl out of the lineup, and insert Timothy Liljegren.  Release Michael Bunting from exile island and put him on the fourth line (which was brutal in game 5).  Let either Aston-Reese or Lafferty watch from upstairs.

The top 9 forwards have all looked strong.  Stop trying to outwit Jon Cooper with line matchups.  Play your best players and put the team’s fate on their shoulders.

Ilya Samsonov let in a costly softy in game 5, and everyone knows it.  Make sure he knows that he’s their guy, reinforce his confidence, and demonstrate that the team has his back.

I’ve seen arguments for Keefe to go back to an 11F-7D lineup. No. Mix ‘n match defence is a bad thing.  Play your 3 best pairs and leave it at that.  And dressing 12 forwards doesn’t mean you have to play them all.  This isn’t house league – get out the blender.

Control what you can.  Chance will decide the rest.