Game #81 Review: Tampa Bay Lightning 3 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs 1

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 6: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning line up for a face off during the first period at the Air Canada Centre on April 6, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

In their penultimate game of the 2018-19 regular season, the Toronto Maple Leafs lost a hard-fought battle to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.

First Period

Despite the non-existent stakes in the standings, both teams came ready to play in this one and the pace was electric in the opening minutes of the game.

One player aiding the Leafs‘ cause was Jake Gardiner, who made his long-awaited return to the lineup.

As the period progressed, neither team slowed down, trading chances left, right and center. Both good transition teams, the two sides pounced on loose pucks and used their speed to create opportunities quickly the other way. After sustaining a spell of zone time against, the Leafs opened the scoring on a quick transition play led by Mitch Marner five minutes into the game:

The pace of play didn’t subside down from there as both teams continued to trade chances. The goaltending shone brightly in this period, especially that of Frederik Andersen, who looks like he’s starting to get his swagger back at the right time of year.

While the Leafs were unable to extend their lead, they did continue to create their fair share of scoring chances, with Auston Matthews, in particular, looking like a real threat every time he stepped on the ice surface.

Second Period

Nothing changed from the pace perspective in the second period, but both teams tightened up some defensively. The Leafs and Lightning were getting their licks in offensively, but it was the defense that shined through in the opening minutes.

The Leafs got an early power-play chance and were looking to extend their lead courtesy of a new-look top unit, but the early results were far less than ideal against a dangerous team while shorthanded in the Tampa Bay Lightning. Morgan Rielly was caught sleeping on the play, allowing Steven Stamkos to sneak behind for the breakaway pass.

The Leafs didn’t seem too deterred by conceding the shortie as they restored the pressure and looked to regain the lead. They continued to do a good job stretching the Lightning defense and creating open-ice chances in the slot.

Matthews was continuing to develop quality looks, with the one starting courtesy of a great first pass from the returning Jake Gardiner.

Mitch Marner’s work rate and awareness away from the puck was fantastic throughout the game, leading to numerous chances the other way:

Just when it seemed like the momentum was reaching a stand-still, Trevor Moore was sent to the box for a hooking penalty, setting the stage for the Lightning’s league-leading power-play unit. They came as advertised, moving the puck well and setting up a series of high-danger chances in quick succession, but Andersen and the Leafs penalty killers did a good job of bending but not breaking.

Later on, Marner used whatever energy he had left to generate a short-handed chance and draw a penalty.

The Leafs had trouble entering the zone and generating many quality chances on their power-play chance and were ultimately unable to tally the go-ahead marker. Back at even strength, both teams continued to trade chances, keeping Vasilevskiy and Andersen busy at both ends.

Third Period

Once again, the pace of play carried over into the new frame and it continued to make for fast-paced, riveting hockey.

One Leaf who continued to push the pace was Marner, who continued to be a difference maker each time he touched the puck.

Unlike the first two periods, the Leafs appeared to be losing a bit of grip on momentum ad the Lightning continued to pile on the pressure. They were, after all, looking to avoid consecutive losses in regulation for the first time since mid-November (!).

Auston Matthews continued to pull off jaw-dropping sequences in possession:

Matthews is heating up at the perfect time of the season and it’s been promising to watch him ramp up the intensity in his game as the playoffs have neared; he’s stringing dominant shifts together similar in a similar way to how he started the year, when he looked like a Rocket Richard and Hart Trophy candidate prior to the injury.

The ice seemed to open up a bit more as the period progressed and that led to some quick transition plays, leading to more scoring chances:

Somewhat against the run of play, the Lightning got the all-important second goal to give themselves the lead for the first time with under six minutes remaining.

That was a puck that needed to be put in deep, especially at this stage of the game, from the fourth-line and Frederik Gauthier. After a turnover as they changed, the Leafs never recovered fully and Steven Stamkos picked them apart with a beautiful backhand feed.

To their credit, Toronto didn’t wilt after the Killorn goal at all, as Patrick Marleau nearly tied the game back up on the very next shift.

It would be a really nice secondary boost for the Leafs if Marleau were to find another level in his game and become an X-factor similar to last year’s series showing versus the Bruins (four goals in seven games).

The Leafs pressed on to tie the game and tilted the in their favour, eventually pulling their goalie with just over two minutes remaining.

They continued to threaten, but it wasn’t meant to be on the night as Nikita Kucherov scored the empty netter to seal the game.

Clip of the Night

Notable Stats

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Locations

Post Game Notes

  • This was about as evenly matched of a game as you could possibly get from two high-flying teams in the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The pace of play was high end, the scoring chances were plentiful at both ends of the ice, the goaltending was great, and the end result was an entertaining game that had a playoff-like feel to it at times. All in all, it’s the type of game the Leafs seem to take to well and they did a good job keeping up with the (albeit Hedman-less, but the Leafs were without some key personnel, too) President’s Trophy winners for 60 minutes. All in all, while they lost the season series 3-1, there was enough to be encouraged about with the way the Leafs played the Lightning throughout the season; this was a 50-50 game and the Leafs dominated the first game of the season series (a lucky Lightning win).
  • Mitch Marner looked fantastic individually in this game as he was buzzing in all areas of the ice, using his speed to create scoring chances and track/disrupt puck carriers defensively, drawing a penalty, scoring a goal, and he looked fantastic on the penalty kill yet again. The underlying numbers tell a bit of a different story for his line with John Tavares and Zach Hyman — 37.04 CF%, a 38.10 FF%, a 38.89 SF%, a 53.85 SCF%, a 40.00 HDCF%, and a 37.34 xGF% at 5v5.  Up against the Kucherov matchup, though, you’ll take a 1-0 advantage in the goals column every time.
  • One line that looked far better than I anticipated was the Auston MatthewsKasperi Kapanen, and Patrick Marleau trio. At 5v5, all three players combined to register a 58.06 CF%, a 52.00 FF%, a 46.15 SF%, a 52.63 SCF%, a 50.00 HDCF%, and a 52.01 xGF%. Matthews’ form ahead of the playoffs is highly encouraging, and Marleau to his credit delivered one of his better performances of the past few months. Kapanen is starting to turn it on but needs to start hitting the 4×6. Again, it would be a really nice boost for the Leafs if Marleau found another level at playoff time and delivered a similar secondary-scoring impact as last Spring.
  • The return of both Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott met all expectations with both players reminding fans just how valuable they really are to the teams’ ability to break out smoothly and efficiently. Calle Rosen has also been a helpful contributor so far with his ability to move the puck, pinch in on the cycle, and walk the line offensively. Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev had a strong game statistically, recording a 57.36 xGF%, a 55.56 CF%, a 47.62 FF%, a 64.29 SCF%, and a 50.00 HDCF% at 5v5. On the flip side, Dermott and Rosen had an even stronger performance statistically as they combined to register at 5v5 a 75.47 xGF%, a 55.56 CF%, a 53.33 FF%, a 63.64 SF%, a 66.67 SCF%, and a 100.00 HDCF%. So much of the Leafs’ ability to win the Bruins series depends on their ability to spend less time in their own zone by playing fast on defense, moving the puck up to their forwards efficiently, and creating the kind of skill-and-speed game that gives them the advantage in the series. Gardiner and Dermott’s return and performance so far is hugely encouraging, while Rosen provides a #7 who gives you much more confidence on those fronts than the Ozhiganovs and Marincins of the world.
  • It wasn’t the result he was looking for, but Frederik Andersen will be happy with the effort he showed in his penultimate start of the season. He finished the game with a .929 SV%, a 2.05 GAA, a .857 HDSV%, and allowed only three rebounded shots against. Andersen is slowly starting to put his disappointing March performance behind him with two consecutive quality starts for the Leafs against two of the toughest opponents in the NHL. It goes without saying that as Andersen goes, the Leafs go at playoff time.

Condensed Game