For the first time in this core’s playoff history, the Maple Leafs started at home with fans in the building. Boy, was it awesome.

The rink was absolutely buzzing from the anthems onwards. When some early tense moments were developing, the Leafs responded well and the crowd reacted by really coming to life.

It was a great atmosphere, and as the Leafs took over, the crowd only made it more fun. They taunted Steve Stamkos. They bronx cheered Andrei Vasilevskiy. Choruses of Go Leafs Go rang out throughout the night.

If you had to draw up a Game 1 win for the Leafs, this is pretty much what it would look like. The Leafs took an emphatic 1-0 lead in the series, and I’m all kinds of curious to see if the playoff lineup changes at all (will Kyle Clifford be suspended? Will Michael Bunting return?), and how Tampa Bay responds to a thorough 5-0 smackdown to start this series.

Your game in 10:

1.   The crowd was buzzing to start this one. The anthems were electric. The fans were loud. You could feel it through the TV.

I don’t know if that led to some nerves, but on the first shift, Tampa Bay put it deep, John Tavares had some time and space to try to advance the puck, he circled back, and he gave it away on a weak backhander. Sheldon Keefe, rightfully, promptly took them off the ice.

The third line went over the boards and settled it down a bit before the Auston Matthews line hopped on. Alex Kerfoot iced it for no reason, Tampa won the draw, and the Lightning drew a penalty.

This was a good early test for the Leafs. In April, TJ Brodie and Justin Holl led their team in shorthanded time on ice for most of the season, including throughout April. Brodie was in the box, Holl was watching from up top, and the Leafs killed it off without a sweat.

If nothing else, it was a big confidence boost for that unit, which they were about to need…

2.    That was a bad hit by Kyle Clifford. It’s an easy call. That is a five-minute major every single time. He had time to change his course, he hit him anyway, and it was square on the numbers. There’s nothing to debate.

And yet it was the Leafs that carried played during the major penalty kill. Alex Kerfoot hit the post on a 2v1, and Mark Giordano was robbed on another 2v1 (also with Kerfoot in on it). In April, the Leafs had one of the worst penalty kills in the league and we talked about their lack of pressure. This game was the opposite.

They were all over the half-walls, and when Tampa Bay tried to set it up behind the net, the Leafs made them very uncomfortable –  Giordano, in particular, was quick to start applying pressure below the goal line with stick checks.

Tampa Bay barely set up their long power play. There was really only one time they should have created a chance — Victor Hedman had the puck at the top of the point with a little time and space to walk in, but he instead opted to pass it to Stamkos, who was almost at the goal line for a weak one-timer attempt.

3.   In-game momentum is a real thing that has to be managed. The wave has to be ridden when it’s on your side. The Leafs did that really well.

With the crowd erupting as the big penalty kill was coming to a close, the Leafs drew a penalty. They didn’t score on the power play, but at least they were able to start pushing the puck in the other end. Due to the penalties, only Mitch Marner had really featured in the game by that point among the Leafs’ top forwards, and you could tell when watching them.

The Leafs went to another power play shortly after and were a little crisper, but the first goal of the game eventually went to Jake Muzzin at 5v5. It was a classic playoff goal if I’ve ever seen one: Win a battle down low, work the puck to the point, and get to the net. Andrei Vasilevskiy clearly didn’t see it well.

Muzzin made a great play to recognize he had time to actually look up and figure out where he wanted to place his shot. He made the right decision for the Leafs’ first playoff goal of 2022.

4.    There were so many penalties in this game that it completely lacked flow and we couldn’t really get a feel for the matchups. By the time the penalties somewhat subsided after the second period, the Leafs held a 4-0 lead. We can’t really sit here and evaluate the matchup game at all.

I would usually incorporate ice time totals and roles throughout, but it’s all out the window due to the penalties, ejections, and the lopsided score. Some of the lineup decisions we were concerned about going into the game were completely moot as the bulk of this game became a special-teams battle.

The Leafs losing Kyle Clifford — leaving them with 11 forwards pretty well the entire game — was also mitigated by this. All in all, there were 13 penalties taken in total, including the five-minute major.

The Leafs’ special teams struggled throughout April, but on the whole, they executed with the form and class that they have generally played with for most of the season.

5.   When it comes to that special-teams battle, the Leafs clearly took round one, and that’s the difference in this game.

The Leafs have famously not used timeouts in playoffs past, but in this one, I thought it was a great call to take their timeout and set up the 5v3. They were staring a long opportunity in the face, and the game was only 1-0 at that point. If the Leafs don’t score there, the game can really swing in the other direction.

You have to bury in that situation if you’re the Leafs, and they made no mistake. The best part was how they did it – there was no getting cute or trying to thread needles to the backdoor. They got Auston Matthews rolling downhill and fed him for an absolute bomb of a one-timer.

When Matthews passed the puck low behind the goal line to Mitch Marner, he circled back to the blue line to wind up with speed, Marner and John Tavares played catch behind the goal line, and Matthews took care of the rest. Vasilevskiy was barely screened, but it did not matter.

That’s the best goal scorer in the world, and it’s sometimes that simple: Tee him up, then line up at center ice.

It was interesting that Morgan Rielly was taken off for the 5v3, but when the strategy is to tee up the shooters up high (Matthews or Nylander), it makes sense. That is not a common look we’ve seen from the Leafs.

6.   The Leafs, who led the league in shorthanded goals during the season, should have added to that tally in the first period. In the second period, they actually did.

David Kampf (!) went down on a breakaway and simply… ripped a shot.. right past… Vasilevskiy. Kampf scored the goal, but the truth is that all of the Leafs’ penalty killers were fantastic in this one.

The speed of Alex Kerfoot, Ilya Mikheyev, and Colin Blackwell caused Tampa problems all night. Mitch Marner and David Kampf played their usual heady games, clogging passing lanes, making good reads, and making it difficult on the opponent.

If you sit back and let Tampa rip the puck around, they will make you pay (the one time the Leafs did actually sit back, Stamkos missed a wide-open net). The Leafs were ready for Tampa’s power-play breakout as well, so kudos to the prescout. They lined up along the blue line and clogged lanes for Tampa so that they couldn’t enter cleanly.

When Tampa did get the puck along the wall off the rush for entries, the forward and defenseman would pressure to close all passing lanes and prevent Tampa from actually setting up properly. Dean Chynoweth was an underrated star in this game.

7.    Going into this game, if you could write a script for the Leafs, how would it unfold?

Jack Campbell plays well? Check.

They win the special teams battle? Check.

Auston Matthews scores and bumps the playoff monkey off his back early? Check.

Mitch Marner scores to toss the monkey off his back, too? Check.

And Marner’s was a beauty. He was assertive in calling for the puck. You can see him banging his stick for the pass on the replay. He danced Vasilveskiy, who was admittedly screened and probably just guessing on the play, before calmly putting the puck into the empty net.

There was no fluke at all on this one. Marner earned it, made a great play, and has to be feeling much better about himself already.

8.    The other big win for the Leafs in this one? Their team speed. It gave Tampa trouble all night. The Lightning looked legitimately slow in this game.

Basically, from the second shift of this game when William Nylander took a harmless-looking pass and easily beat Sergachev wide for a scoring chance, the Leafs looked much faster. Their speed on the penalty kill was a factor in odd-man rushes. Their speed through the neutral zone created good forechecks, lots of turnovers, and plenty of scoring opportunities.

Specifically, Alex Kerfoot, Ilya Mikheyev, Pierre Engvall, William Nylander, and Colin Blackwell caused major speed problems for Tampa Bay.

9.   I thought it was really important for the Leafs to not let Tampa gain some confidence in the third period to take into Game 2, and they did just that.

From a play perspective, the third was a relative snooze. Tampa created very little. Auston Matthews scored a hilarious goal. The crowd mocked Vasilevskiy relentlessly (I am guessing he didn’t get pulled in part to avoid the raucous jeer he would have received from the crowd, which — to be clear — would have been absolutely incredible).

It’s a series, so even in a game you’re crushing them on the scoreboard, you don’t want to give the opponent momentum to build off of. The Leafs did really well to snuff it out.

They were super tight in the neutral zone, caused turnovers, and counterattacked Tampa really well to the point where they stopped even trying to make plays through the neutral zone. It’s a little thing, but it’s a big thing.

10.   Of course, plenty of extracurricular activities occurred in the third period, and here is my most important takeaway: What Pat Maroon did to Morgan Rielly was absolute garbage.

Good for Rielly for hanging in there and being a good teammate, but everyone saw the clip of his banged-up hand. He’s a premier point-producing defenseman in this league. You don’t want to see his hands looking like that. It’s really the only real negative in this game.

I’m sure he’s going to play through it, but that is frustrating to see. This is presumably exactly why Kyle Clifford was dressed in the first place, and he would have been on for that incident had he not been (rightfully) ejected in the first place.

Last year, the Leafs shied away from the Habs when they initiated physically. This year, so far, there is no backing down.  

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Game Highlights: Leafs 5 vs. Lightning 0