After a three day break spent golfing, fishing and pool side chillaxing in Florida, the Leafs were looking to mount a push for home ice advantage in round one of the playoffs with a win over Tampa Bay tonight. As it turns out, the Leafs would outshoot their opponent for the first time in 10 games. Surely it ended well…
1 – We hoped to see the refreshed Leafs come out strong against a bottom-feeding Lightning team just playing out the string. There was jump in the Leafs’ step in the first 20, and while not their cleanest period defensively, they emerged with the 1-0 lead after Bozak pounced on the puck and showed good vision to find Kessel across the zone for a one timer. The play started with Bozak floating a nice area pass into the right corner for Kessel to chase, and Kessel’s pressure forced a turnover to Bozak before Phil drifted over to the left side and found a hole in coverage.
2 – That is Kessel’s 7th goal and 15th point in his last 9. The Leafs’ ace is hot at the right time of year.
3 – Despite four minutes straight of 5 on 4 powerplays to start the second period, the Leafs couldn’t cash in, with very few quality chances generated. Sure enough, the missed opportunities came back to bite them shortly thereafter. Dion Phaneuf was out for huge spells of the powerplays, and with Dion on the bench exhausted, Steven Stamkos took advantage of a matchup against Mark Fraser, burning him to the outside and beating Reimer with a nice backhand. Fraser isn’t the best ever player to get burnt by Steven Stamkos, but he was struggling to deal with the speed of the Lightning forwards all night long.
4 – Later in the second, the first line was buzzing again and JvR hit his second post of the evening before Tampa’s counter attack burned the Leafs for the 2-1 goal. Gunnarsson and Phaneuf were left to defend a 3 on 2 and did an OK job of it, but the forwards were slow on the back check and the Leafs were outnumbered long enough for St. Louis to hop on a pass out front and make it 2-1.
5 – After an important kill from the Leafs’ ever reliable PK, a briefly thrown together line of Frattin, Bozak and Lupul grabbed the tying 2-2 goal late in the second period. Franson timed his pinch nicely in the high slot before MacArthur pulled off a spin-around pass that found Lupul on the back door. 2-2 headed into the third.
6 – After going a game without a goal upon return from concussion, a major slump by his recent standards, Lupul now has a three-game goal streak going. He has 11 goals in his last 10 games, including the one where he left with injury in the first period. He’s also red hot at the right time.
7 – Four minutes into the third, the first line, for the second time tonight, got caught up the ice a little after a good scoring chance at the other end. Tyler Bozak made a nice diving play to break up the initial chance, but four Leafs got sucked in towards the puck in the corner and Teddy Purcell found the trailing Radko Gudas, who beat Reimer with a hard one timer. 3-2 Lightning.
8 – With seven minutes to go in the third, Carl Gunnarsson lost control of the puck coming out of the corner, leading to a turnover to Keith Aulie at the point. Aulie fired it off the end boards, it bounded out to Martin St. Louis at the side of the net and St. Louis sealed the victory for the Lightning. Bad giveaway out of the corner by Gunnarsson and slow reactions from rest of the Leafs (Grabovski, McClement, Komarov, Phaneuf). St. Louis added another a few minutes later with the net empty to complete his hat trick.
9 – Not the result the Leafs wanted, but a positive game for a couple of Leafs who have been in the press box recently. Matt Frattin was buzzing throughout and showed ample jump tonight. He could’ve had his first since February 11th after a nice outside-inside move around Eric Brewer off the rush, but was turned away by Ben Bishop. MacArthur picked up a nice assist on the Lupul goal. In terms of keeping the likes of Frattin and MacArthur involved before the post-season, this game had a positive.
10 – The Lightning are a bad team this season, but they do have two of the league’s best in Stamkos and St. Louis, and making mistakes with those two on the ice is a good way to lose a hockey game the team might otherwise look alright in. The Leafs did that three times too many tonight and the result is a 5-2 loss. The Leafs have now lost 3 of their last 4 and they stand to potentially fall a spot in the standings if they don’t pick up some points in their final two, starting tomorrow night against Florida.