Leafs Recap Game 3: Glorious Madness

When you look at the checklist of what an ideal playoff hockey game includes, game three between the Leafs and Lightning ticks most of the boxes. Back-and-forth scoring, lots of physicality and skill, a brawl, a last-minute goal, and overtime hockey. It was not the Leafs’ best game; in fact, probably closer to their worst. But in the playoffs, only two words matter, Survive and Advance. Toronto has yet to advance, but they showed another sign that this year might be different with their win tonight. Maybe it was just luck, and no, they certainly did not deserve to win but rarely have this Matthews-led iteration of the Leafs stolen a game in the playoffs, especially on the road. Winning in the playoffs is hard for everybody, but as exemplified by the fact they last won a series in 2004, it is particularly hard for the Leafs. However, game three was a massive step in the right direction. Job not finished, but we’re just two games away. Let’s break down what happened tonight.

Despite everything I have said so far, the Leafs started the game well. The Matthews line started with a good shift, and then it was time for Matthew Knies to get to work.

I don’t think T.J. Brodie played well tonight, but this was a heady play by him. He bypasses all of the Tampa pressure with a flick to the open Noel Acciari, and from there, the Leafs are off to the races. Knies then set up Acciari with a nice slip pass, and a good finish opens the scoring. I’ll take the chance to rave about Knies now. He is unbelievable, and I don’t think I am hyperbolizing. Much of his play may be down to youthful naivety/exuberance, but he is confident with the puck. He never seems rushed or overwhelmed and usually manages to make the right play (there were a few bad turnovers). On breakouts especially, when you might feel like you have less time than you actually do, Knies always takes the extra second to get his head up and find a smart pass.

He also has the quickness and hands to do shit like this? He won’t be leaving the lineup for a long time.

The rest of the first period was pretty sloppy, but Matthews got his first goal, which was nice to see. He created the turnover with a good forecheck, and his ability to tip pucks is second to none. On the other hand, Ilya Samsonov was concerning in the first period. He seemed to struggle tracking the puck and often had no idea where it was, like for the second Lightning goal.

The second period was the worst period the Leafs have played since the first period of game one, which was really bad. Unfortunately, they were about equally lousy tonight, and the lack of energy was tough to watch. Shift after shift, they were getting caved in with little relief. Many careless passes and over-commitment on the forecheck led to the Lightning finding a lot of space in the neutral zone. Darren Raddysh even scored a goal, which is pretty embarrassing for Toronto. Nonetheless, they managed to escape down just one goal, primarily thanks to a significant bounce-back period from Samsonov.

The third period was utter madness from start to finish. Let’s start with the initial hit (if we can even call it that) that led to everyone getting penalties.

Rielly and Point are battling for a puck in the corner. Rielly uses his body while being shoulder to shoulder to try and get the position, Point awkwardly falls, and his proximity to the boards combined with the speed he’s going at makes it look a lot worse then it is. It was a hockey play gone wrong and nothing more. Thankfully, Point was not hurt and was able to return. As for Kucherov jumping Rielly right after, it’s pretty unsurprising. Nikita Kucherov is one of the biggest scumbags in the league regarding sneaky shit on the ice, and it’s time for more people to acknowledge this. Just completely unnecessary and overreactive. Two minutes for roughing makes sense, but an eye needs to be kept on him for the rest of the series. Nobody loves an illegal can opener more than Kucherov.

Let’s move to Stamkos and Matthews, which I guess is considered a fight?! Good for Auston knocking off his NHL fight virginity, but I am not sure how much credit he deserves here (usually the case). So, the referee is holding Stamkos, and Stamkos starts grabbing at Matthews and throws a punch, the referee lets go of Stamkos, who then promptly grabs Matthews, and it ends with them both getting five minutes for fighting? Here is what Sheldon Keefe had to say.

I very much applaud Keefe for saying something, and look, I get it; I am a biased Leaf fan. But the Lightning have made it to three straight cup finals, which does not happen in the NHL without a bit of ‘playing the game.’ They have figured out a play style that allows them to draw a lot of penalties but also take a lot. For them, it works out, though, because penalties in the NHL tend to even out, and Tampa has excellent special teams. Overall, I think the referees did pretty well tonight and didn’t completely mess up this sequence. It just is frustrating. I will move on.


The game-tying goal was scored with a minute left by Ryan O’Reilly, who was probably the Leafs’ best skater tonight. I tweeted this during the game,

He fits in amazingly with the whole team and has elevated his game to the levels it was at when he won the Conn Smythe, albeit in a much more limited role. I don’t know what more to say other than I hope the Leafs find a way to re-sign him. He will be a big player for the rest of this playoffs, which will be a while. It was an excellent play by William Nylander to get the puck on the net, which Toronto was not doing enough of tonight. Although I need more from Willy, he seemed to lack a bit of drive tonight. Instead, he was hot and cold, which is more of what the younger Nylander gave us. He must find a groove with Tavares again and get that second line going.

Overtime was about as stressful as I remember it always being. The Leafs started off slowly again, but Samsonov made more massive saves to keep the game tied, like this one on Kucherov.

Samsonov outplayed Vasilevsky tonight. He saved 25/26 shots after the first period and froze the puck well in critical situations. His calmness allowed the Leafs to put the puck together in the latter half of overtime. After solid pressure caused a few icing calls, O’Reilly won a key faceoff back to Morgan Rielly, and Toronto took a 2-1 series lead.

I cannot emphasize how significant tonight is. Beating a team like Tampa, when you played close to your worst, can only strengthen the Leafs’ belief in themselves. They came out with a massive performance after playing like crap in game one, whose to say they won’t do it again in game four? They were up 2-1 last year and laid an egg in game four, but this team isn’t the same as last year, and this might be their last chance as a group. At this point, they should know when they smell blood; this is their chance to knock off a dynasty. I expect something close to Toronto’s best in game four, god willing. Let’s get to the questions.


Why is Justin Holl playing so much?

Holl played the fourth most of all Leafs defenders, which is fine. In fact, Holl was their best defenseman tonight. I get all the Holl criticism. Often times I am leading the pack. However, tonight was the positive side of Justin Holl. He made some great plays on the penalty kill with an active stick, he had that crazy rush which drew a penalty, he didn’t put his teammates in bad spots, and he made a lot of composed, intelligent decisions. As long as Holl isn’t making boneheaded mistakes, his overall game is usually fine, and tonight it was more than that. I also was impressed with Jake McCabe and Luke Schenn. McCabe’s skating ability helped him evade pressure more than once, and he showed no fear in carrying and protecting the puck. Schenn was also simple but effective. He played the least amount, which should be the case, but he was positive in his minutes. On the flip side, I am worried about Mark Giordano and Brodie. Both looked slow tonight, and they struggled to receive and complete passes cleanly. The Leafs need them to be solid. I will be watching them closely in game four.

Who comes out for Bunting in game five? Surely not Knies?

Taking out Knies at this point is a fireable offence. It will not be him. I don’t think that Keefe will scratch Bunting for an extended period, but if the Leafs win game four, I could see Bunting staying out for game five. I went over what I think of Bunting on Thursday, but if you have won three in a row, there is no need to mess anything up. Take the extended break and figure it out, then. If I had to pick, I would be taking Aston-Reese out at this point. His upside is the lowest of the forwards, and he had more careless turnovers tonight.

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