Annnnnnnnnnd back to reality. The entire city was utterly buzzing after game 1, and since Leaf fans are only allowed a minimal time in a year to be happy, the referees took it upon themselves to cut the parade short for now. Oh, yeah, we’re going straight into the refs. In all honesty, the Leafs probably played a good enough game at 5 on 5 to walk out Scotiabank Arena with a 2-0 series lead, but the special teams just were not on task tonight. That’s going to be a problem when the stripes call penalties like this.
How do you even see a hook there? There is not a referee on the ice who has a chance in hell to see through all those bodies and spot a hook because there was not even a hook to spot! Ilya Lybushkin has his stick on Brayden Point for at most half a second! It was terrible both ways, too, don’t get me wrong, the Leafs benefited from some absurd makeup calls. But getting seven power plays in an NHL playoff game is legitimately rarer than Mike Smith performing well in the playoffs, and the Lightning cracked that number early in the third period. I admit I was not a fan of “you have to be murdered to get a penalty” style playoff hockey, but this is arguably worse. At least when they just didn’t call penalties, you didn’t have to see the referees doing their stupid fucking hand signals every five minutes. Now it’s just non-stop interruptions, and then you look at the replay, and you have to rewind five times to try and figure out where the penalty is. This all sounds very blame it all on the refs’ vibe, and I do not like that notion one bit, but at the same time…maybe do your job?
Anyways, now onto the game, which started off pretty well! The Leafs were undoubtedly the better team and finished the first period with 0.8 expected goals to the Lightning’s 0.25. The Buds were skating better than the Lightning. They were physical but also played efficiently. It was all going to plan until you started to realize that Andrei Vasilevsky did not look like he was going to lose a hockey game tonight. All the momentum at the end of the first, however, they were 1-0 down on the real scoreboard.
After Corey Perry scored his customary goal against the Leafs in the playoffs, Auston Matthews did what MVPs do and created a goal out of practically nothing. His aggressive forecheck and strong hit on Ryan Mcdonagh poked the poke lose, allowing Auston to hand it over to Marner, who quickly found Bunting to cut the lead in half.
It was a gritty game from Matthews, who clearly did not have his best stuff but threw some nice hits and still found a way to get involved. It felt like the Leafs were ready to push back after Bunting’s goal, but then another penalty and this one was not a good look for Wayne Simmonds. So was it a bit of a weak call? Yes, it was an act by Bellemare, but seriously what is the thinking behind this play? Similar to Clifford yesterday, there is no point in doing anything there. Nothing positive will come from you taking down someone after the whistle.
Of course, the ensuing powerplay led to a Nikita Kucherov snipe to extend the lead back to 2. The fifth Lightning goal, which realistically put the game to bed, came from another Wayne Simmonds after the whistle penalty. Although I will defend him on this one, how easy is it to trick NHL refs? Perry just falls down and gets a whistle. Simmonds barely leans on him. If anything, Perry trips over Campbell. Nonetheless, it created another powerplay goal, this time by Brayden Point and now we’re headed to Tampa tied at one in the series.
The pushback from the boys was encouraging to see at the end. There is no doubt this team has fight and determination. It is tough when you put yourself in a 5-1 hole, however. They had a real chance to make it interesting when they were given a pretty free powerplay with just under three minutes to go, but it was uninspiring. Just as I was praising the powerplay last recap and how they scored a big goal at a big-time, they were silent tonight. In recent memory, the Leaf powerplay has struggled in the playoffs, and it cannot do that this year if they want to win. I don’t see the referees changing style anytime soon, so the chances will be there, (hopefully) the Leafs just have to capitalize.
No need to panic, Leaf fans. Nobody said it was going to be easy. It is a best of five now, and we get home ice, another great atmosphere tonight (I loved the incessant booing), and we can expect more of the same the rest of the way. I will say again I’d really like Spezza to get a look in game 3. I mean, the Leaf fourth line has done nothing but cause the Leafs problems, so I don’t see why you wouldn’t at least TRY something there. Other than that, I am pumped to go win some hockey games in Tampa Bay. God, this is the best time of year. What an opportunity for these men to show what they are made of! Let’s go, Buds.
Shoutout to @TicTacOmar on Twitter for the clips! Great follow.