What. A. Start. In my prediction earlier this morning I said I thought the Leafs would come out of the gates flying to start the series, but I have to admit that a 5-0 demolition of the Lightning in game one was not expected. Right from the get-go, it was clear that the Leafs were feeding off the palpable playoff energy in Scotiabank Arena. The Leafs’ home rink is certainly nothing special during the arduous regular season, but Leaf fans are second to none in terms of pumping up their team when a potential Stanley Cup is in sight. The passion truly does unite us all on nights like tonight. Let’s dive into the game a little bit and then talk some big picture stuff after.
Toronto’s start to the game set up perfectly for them to get the crowd involved. Kyle Clifford’s hit was reckless, dangerous and frankly, one of the dirtiest hits I have seen in a while (Of course he was wearing number 43). However, killing a five-minute power-play is just the thing that lights up not only a building but an entire bench. Not to mention that it completely deflates the other team. The Leafs had the better chances on that penalty kill than the Bolts did on their power play and that theme was continuous throughout the game. By the time the first period had ended, everyone could see the Leafs were not going to let the play be dictated by their opponent and it led to them leading heading into the second.
In the ensuing second period, the Leafs’ big boys showed up and they showed out. A dominant middle period in which both Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner scored beautiful goals personified the feeling that this year could be different from the rest. In past years, the exceptional Leaf power-play from the regular season has gone cold when the playoffs came around. This year, in game one, they showed they wouldn’t let golden opportunities slip. After being gifted a 5-on-3 advantage thanks to a brainless penalty from Jan Rutta (more on him later), the Leafs went to work. After some quick puck movement, Marner found Matthews, who put everything he had into a one-timer that would not be saved by any goalie anywhere.
After David Kampf finally took advantage of one of the Leafs’ many shorthanded chances, it was Mitch Marner’s turn to dazzle the crowd. The former London Knight’s goal showed that he is prepared to put his past playoff failures behind him.
The Leafs had well and truly stepped on the Lightning’s throats, and like a fish out of water, the Bolts were suffocating.
The third period was a mere formality and other than another Matthews goal which will pad the stats neatly, the only talking point was more rough stuff. Before the series, Leaf head coach Sheldon Keefe made some striking comments when he declared he was expecting the series to be borderline violent. While there was nothing borderline about the third-period scrum involving Rutta, Morgan Rielly, Pat Maroon, Corey Perry and Wayne Simmonds, it was just violent. Unnecessarily so, at least for the Leafs. What started with a seemingly innocuous hit by Simmonds led to him being chased by Maroon and Perry like they were two goons chasing down Adam Sandler’s character in Uncut Gems for gambling debts.
Both Lightning players pushed and pulled Simmonds around while the Leaf wanted no part in it. Despite this, a large brawl ensued anyway.
In the end, gratefully nothing seriously bad happened for the Leafs other than Rielly sporting a bruised hand, but they need to ensure that they do not get dragged into stuff by the Lightning. You do not want to get bullied around, no doubt, but you also need to recognize the situation and know when it is worth it and when it isn’t.
As we look at the overall series and what game one means for it, mindsets have indeed been altered. The cliche is that this series is akin to a heavyweight fight, that this is just an early blow by the Leafs. There is clearly a long series still to go, but the Leafs landed more than just a punch tonight, in fact, what they landed probably was not a physical blow at all. It was mental. The Lightning will not be able to blow the Leafs away with speed or skill, and this Toronto squad proved they won’t back away from a fight. The back-to-back cup champs are most likely not shaking in their boots quite yet, they have objectively been here before. However, in terms of an ideal start for the Leafs, this was it. Goals for your most prominent stars, embarrassing the opposition’s fantastic goalie and an unmistakable message that the team is not going to be an easy out.
For the next game, I would love to see Jason Spezza draw in somewhere, although I understand the want to have Simmonds in the lineup. If Bunting is able to return next game, I hope they put Alex Kerfoot with William Nylander and give them good minutes. Both players were flying tonight and they’ll need to chip in too if the Leafs want to go far. Big shoutout to Jack Campbell tonight who like Campbell Soup, was there when he was needed most. Lastly, again, a massive shoutout to the crowd for being as loud as they have ever been. This team needs to feel the support and tonight, they did.
Onto game two on Wednesday! Go Buds Go.