Just what the doctor ordered: The Toronto Maple Leafs punched their ticket to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a dominant 2-1 win over the New York Islanders on Monday night.

First Period

After suffering a disappointing loss at the hands of the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night and having been blowout in embarrassing fashion in this building the last time around, the Leafs began the game with the purpose we expected to see, taking control of momentum from the get-go.

One line that started particularly bright out of the gate was John Tavares’ group; strong on the forecheck and first to loose pucks, they generated a barrage of early chances.

While the energy in the building wasn’t at the same fever pitch as the previous matchup, the emotion on the ice was palpable:

As the period progressed, the Leafs continued to generate high-percentage chances and were much more effective exiting their own zone cleanly against an Islanders forecheck that gave them issues in this building last time out.

All four forwards lines were playing with urgency and jumping on turnovers, with one of the best chances from this period coming through none other than Frederik Gauthier, who broke this play up and transitioned the other way thanks to sound positional sense.

The Leafs continued to press for the ice-breaker, but they were denied by some excellent goaltending by Robin Lehner and both teams headed to the locker room after the first period deadlocked at 0-0.

Second Period

Much like the first period, the Leafs began the second period with the momentum and controlled the pace of the play. With continued forechecking pressure and quality work on the cycle, it seemed like only a matter of time, and it took just two minutes of the second period before their efforts were finally rewarded.

After more good puck pursuit on the forecheck led to a chance off the cycle, Calle Rosen’s seeing-eye shot beat Lehner cleanly.

After the goal, the Islanders generated a pushback in search of the equalizer. Shortly thereafter, the Leafs endured a scare at the worst possible time of the season.

Fortunately for Leafs fans, Auston Matthews finished the game seemingly unscathed.

The Leafs quickly regained their ascendant form, with Tavares again leading the way:

The emotions of the game continued to percolate as the Leafs found themselves on the penalty kill following a shoving match in front.

That’s a penalty you’ll take if you’re the Leafs; good on Nazem Kadri for sticking up for Frederik Andersen after he was mobbed in his crease. The Leafs killed off the penalty and another one subsequently.

Auston Matthews, meanwhile, was looking none the worse for wear:

The pace of play continued to ramp up as each team generated quality looks at both ends of the ice, including a key defensive stop by Ron Hainsey to keep the Leafs lead intact:

Despite largely dominating the period, the Leafs were only up a goal as the buzzer sounded with 20 minutes left to play.

Third Period

Similar to the previous two periods, the Leafs began the third period by grabbing momentum quickly and generating multiple scoring chances. Encouragingly, the consistency to their effort throughout the 60 minutes — hungry on loose pucks, forcing turnovers, and generating chances off the cycle — is the level the Leafs are looking to find in these final warmup games this week.

After nearly four minutes of dominant play, they finally grabbed an insurance marker.

Mitch Marner is the straw the stirs the drink here after cutting in, spacing out the defenders, and leaving room for Tavares to sneak into the play and take a pretty drop pass that #91 finished off beautifully with a quick-snap release.

Within seconds of the insurance tally, Tavares went to the box for slashing and put the Islanders back on the power-play. The Leafs were able to kill it off thanks to relentless puck pressure for the penalty killers, including more good shorthanded work from Mitch Marner.

After another unsuccessful power-play from the Leafs, the Islanders were on the receiving end of yet another chance on the man-advantage. This time, they wore down the Leafs’ overworked penalty killers and finally solved Andersen:

With roughly five minutes remaining in regulation, the Islanders pressed on looking for the equalizer and made Andersen work to defend the fort.  The Islanders pulled their goalie, but the Leafs mostly kept New York in check and held on for the victory.

Clip of the Night

Notable Stats

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Locations

Post Game Notes

  • From start to finish, the Toronto Maple Leafs were the better team in this game and their strong performance at 5v5 was deserving of the two points. For the past few weeks, the Leafs have made significant strides in their control of play at evens and it’s resulted in some dominant performances with no results to show for it. Tonight’s game was a cultivation of the Leafs’ persistence and a rebound in puck luck and goaltending — a tight-checking 2-1 win against a stout defensive playoff-bound team is the perfect kind of postseason primer.
  • No player wanted it more than John Tavares on the night and his performance was nothing short of dominant (one goal, two penalties drawn). Alongside Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman, the line registered a 70.83 CF%, a 68.18 FF%, a 53.85 SF%, a 68.75 SCF%, a 75.00 HDCF%, and a 58.56 xGF% at 5v5. All three players did a superb job on the forecheck, puck-protecting on the cycle, and generating quality looks in tight to the net. With the goal and victory, there had to be some personal satisfaction there in taking care of some unfinished business.
  • Additionally, the Auston Matthews line was exceptional in this one thanks in no small part to the continued surge of William Nylander. Both players and Kasperi Kapanen combined to record a 59.26 CF%, a 70.59 FF%, a 71.43 SF%, a 50.00 HDCF%, and a 67.69 xGF% at 5v5. These performances have become the norm for the Matthews and Nylander duo, who have both seen their play and underlying stats dramatically improve since reuniting in early March. It feels like it’s only a matter of time before the floodgates open for these two players offensively, and it’s not mattered much who plugs in on the other side of the line.
  • Really nice debut performance as a pairing for Calle Rosen and Travis Dermott unit, who excelled with their two-way performance against a tough Islanders team that has some depth lines that are difficult to contain. At 5v5, both combined to register a 66.36 xGF%, a 66.67 CF%, a 66.67 FF%, a 70.59 SF%, a 61.11 SCF%, and a 66.67 HDCF% at nearly 10 minutes of TOI together. Rosen was long overdue for another chance in the NHL and he made the most of his opportunity in a big way, capping off the night with his first NHL goal while looking quick to pucks and moving the pill efficiently. Dermott, meanwhile, has been reminding us all how much the Leafs missed his ability to get the play moving north with the puck on his stick and his tight gap-ups defending the rush. Both did a good job of sustaining cycles at the offensive blue line as well. It’s a significant difference when it comes to the ease with which the Leafs exit the zone and play more on offense when these two are in over Martin Marincin and Igor Ozhiganov.
  • While not necessarily the first star of the game with the effort from the team in front of him, Frederik Andersen finally returned to form with a spectacular showing in net for the first time in over a week. He finished the night with a .966 SV%, a 1.00 GAA, a 1.000 HDSV%, and allowed only two rebound chances against. This was the type of bounce-back game Andersen desperately needed. He’ll likely get into two more games before the season is through.
  • With the win, the Leafs officially punched their ticket to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That’s never an easy thing in this league and should be celebrated. While the chances of the Leafs clinching home-ice advantage are not favourable, the goal should be to go 3-0-0 record the rest of the way and put some pressure on a Bruins team playing some mediocre hockey of late. Even if they don’t get the help they need to catch Boston, the knock-on effect of opening that series on a hot streak could be highly beneficial.

Condensed Game