I don’t want to sit here and say this game was simply a case of everything that could have gone wrong going wrong.
That would downplay the reality that Tampa Bay thoroughly outplayed the Leafs in the third period of Game 3, and even at the start of Game 3 before taking an early penalty and conceding the 1-0 goal. In Game 2, the Lightning started really tilting the ice at 5v5 as well. In this game, Tampa simply carried it over at 5v5, except they didn’t take a bunch of penalties along the way.
The Lightning forecheck is giving the Leafs fits. Toronto can’t break out cleanly and therefore aren’t generating enough offensively. Special teams were the story early in this series, but now the 5v5 battle is taking shape.
All of that said, this is a tied series and the Leafs still own home-ice advantage. There is still plenty of time to sort this out, and the friendly confines of Scotiabank Arena is on the Leafs‘ side (they have been great at home this season). But they need to figure out what’s happening at 5v5 in order to get back on track.
This series was always going to go deep, and now we are assured of it. Tampa isn’t going to end their championship reign without a fight.
Your game in 10:
1. This is the first game that the Leafs started their checking line on the first shift, which was perhaps a bit of a stick tap for their really strong Game 3. It did not go well.
First off, Tampa Bay avoided the matchup with their top players and instantly put their energy line out. They won the faceoff, got it deep, there was a big hit by Ross Colton on Mark Giordano, and the Lightning hemmed the Leafs in. They were able to get a full five-man line change in, while the Leafs changed two of their forwards.
Even still, the Leafs had the puck and a split second to make a play, and while many are focusing on Justin Holl on the Lightning 1-0 goal, the issue there was really Ondrej Kase.
Why is he blowing the zone? Holl should 10/10 times try to pass to the winger in this situation. He was already on for a long shift and the matchup had changed. The Leafs needed controlled possession until at least the red line (a dump-in or skate-in) so he could change. If Holl rifles it off the wall and ices it, Tampa has a loaded-up offensive zone faceoff with their top scorers on against a tired pairing and one tired forward.
The Leafs’ game is not blowing the zone. Kase has to curl and open up or stop, not skate up the ice and watch Ondrej Palat come off the bench and undercut him for the puck. That started a sequence in which the puck went back to Kase’s side, where he didn’t block the shot as Tampa scored.
The Leafs aren’t breaking out cleanly, and it’s generally on their wingers. Literally, no matter what Holl did there, it was going to be a turnover. Even earlier in this shift, Holl put one cleanly on Ilya Mikheyev’s tape, but he got stuffed and Tampa retained possession.
2. On the first goal, the Leafs were tilted from puck drop, and while that generally continued to happen right after Stamkos scored, the second goal was more the result of a bad bounce.
It’s a relatively harmless play. Jake Muzzin misjudged the puck coming off the wall, Jack Campbell tried to make up for it, and the puck bounced right to Pierre-Eduourd Bellemare, who buried it.
At this point, the Leafs couldn’t break out cleanly and they hadn’t really gotten out of their zone through five minutes. I was surprised that Sheldon Keefe didn’t call a timeout in an attempt to calm the team down. They were not sharp or ready for Tampa Bay’s forecheck.
It’s one thing to be down early 2-0 on bad bounces, but they were getting thoroughly outplayed. A timeout seemed sensible to settle the players down. The Leafs going down two with 55 minutes to go is not the end of the world. Instead, they let it play out…
3. It only got worse from there. Morgan Rielly and Alex Kerfoot were to blame on the 3-0 goal.
Kerfoot is supposedly playing on the top line to at least somewhat help on the defensive side of the puck over Michael Bunting. Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews were both applying pressure up ice. That means Kerfoot is the high guy in the neutral zone. Instead, there were three Tampa Bay forwards behind him.
Rielly obviously had to read it correctly, and there was no reason to step up on a player standing still at center. But he did, Pat Maroon got in behind him, and Maroon buried it.
This is in part why the Leafs’ coaching staff probably should have used a timeout at 2-0 – the players were clearly rattled and were making uncharacteristic plays. Right after, Jason Spezza — of all people — took an undisciplined penalty. His whole purpose is PP2 and maybe the odd 5v5 scoring chance, so that simply can’t happen. He should never engage with Pat Maroon, especially after he scored and the team is getting crushed.
On the following power play for Tampa Bay, Brayden Point coasted through the Leafs’ penalty kill and got robbed on a mini breakaway.
Later on, Matthews did hit a crossbar and the Leafs went on a power play late to try and make it a two-goal game, which would have been a huge win after a disaster of a period. The Leafs generated almost nothing. When we talk about having a good power play, that’s the time when a good power play needs to do something.
4. At 3-0, I think it was perfectly reasonable not to pull Jack Campbell. The Leafs are more than capable of exploding offensively, so a three-goal lead with 40 minutes to go is not an out-of-the-question, this-game-is-over scenario. They also don’t have a good enough backup to pull Campbell and not essentially declare that they are punting the game.
If the Leafs won the second period, they would have been, at worst, down two goals. Again, a two-goal lead going into the third period is not a terrible situation to be in, all things considered.
5. Of course, the second period did not play out that way. It did not seem like the Leafs were ever really going to generate a pushback and make the game interesting, but at 3-0, it was not out of the question. The fourth goal was simply a backbreaker.
Ross Colton broke in and scored on a rather weak wrist shot that Jack Campbell simply missed with his glove. It’s a terrible goal, but something notable happened right beforehand. Ryan McDonagh and Ilya Mikheyev were racing for a puck, Mikheyev knocked him down, Colin Blackwell tried to swoop in to grab the puck, and McDonagh — who was down on the ice — poked it by him. It should have been a 2v1 going the other way. You can’t lose that battle on a Tuesday in November, never mind the playoffs.
And yet Morgan Rielly still had the puck and moved it up to Mikheyev, who had the puck poked off of him this time before Tampa went down and scored the weak, back-breaking goal.
It was the story of the game: How many battles can the Leafs lose on the wall? Tampa seemingly won them all.
6. John Tavares is having a nightmare series to this point. He’s generating nothing on offense, and in the second period, he took a tripping penalty when chasing… Corey Perry. Right off the draw, David Kampf shot the puck out and Tampa essentially went to a full 5v3. Of course, Perry scored.
There’s not much to say here. Nikita Kucherov loves the fake slapshot pass, and he got the Leafs with it. It was a 5v3, and Tampa was rolling all night. The odds of killing it were slim.
Now Keefe had to really want to pull Jack Campbell, but it was still the middle of a power play, and nobody wanted to throw Erik Kallgren into that situation. At some point, it’s just cruel.
7. It’s time to discuss the fourth lines. Tampa’s is outclassing the Leafs by such a big margin at this point that it’s comical to think back on the series of events.
The Leafs came out insanely hyped up, dressed their two enforcers in the first game — in some part a response to Tampa’s big fourth line — and Kyle Clifford took a five-minute major almost instantly. In Game 2, Perry scored on a breakaway. In Game 3, the Leafs really paid them no mind, and that was fantastic. In Game 4, the Lightning fourth line scored twice at 5v5 and Perry scored on the 5v3.
Conversely, the Leafs’ fourth line has done almost nothing. Colin Blackwell scored coming off of a penalty kill. Wayne Simmonds took some bad penalties in Game 2. Clifford was ejected, as noted. Even Jason Spezza has done basically nothing since rejoining the lineup. Michael Bunting is almost certainly playing hurt and is doing very, very little, to put it nicely. At some point, either Bunting has to get healthier, play better, or both, but having him in to provide nothing isn’t working for anyone involved.
8. I’m not going to say much about the third period. It was nice the Leafs broke the shutout on principle alone. They scored another, and some empty-net back-and-forth stuff occurred. Honestly, I thought this was a waste of a period.
The Leafs barely mixed up the lines. Michael Bunting, playing through injury, was moved up to the top line and did nothing. The third line remained together – fair enough. The fourth line remained ineffective. The defense pairings were not really shaken up.
Erik Kallgren was in (and kudos to him for acquitting himself well in relief and giving up zero goals), the Leafs were down five, and they were throwing in the towel. They scored a few times, but they didn’t really do anything to build towards the next game. It really just felt like waiting for the buzzer so the team could head home.
Morgan Rielly did show some fire after Brayden Point two-handed him, but it was a lost opportunity to try out a few things in the team’s last chance to do so. It’s a best-of-three series now. Two of those games are at home. There is almost no room for error at this point.
9. I do think it’s noteworthy that Tampa went 1/8 on the power play in this one. They had chances, but the Leafs did well to mitigate the damage. The one goal was a 5v3. 1/8 is not nothing.
The Leafs’ most common penalty killers were the usual suspects: David Kampf, Ilya Mikheyev, Mitch Marner, Alex Kerfoot, Ondrej Kase, Jake Muzzin, TJ Brodie, Mark Giordano, and Justin Holl.
That’s why I would understand if Holl remains in the lineup. He’s a staple on a good unit in an important part of the game. Beyond that, the biggest issue is the top of the Leafs’ defense.
I know fans love Ilya Lyubushkin, but he has problems moving the puck. He had some heroic moments in Game 3, but by and large, he has been targeted and worked over by Tampa. Morgan Rielly has been most effective alongside Brodie. I would switch Lyubushkin out for Timothy Liljegren, place Liljegren alongside Muzzin, and keep the third pairing together (which gives them penalty-killing options, and they have been respectable, generally speaking).
10. There are all sorts of things to figure out at the forward position.
The top line is getting crushed in their matchup against Cirelli – Point – Killorn / Hedman – Cernak. Either the Leafs have to load up the top line all the way (meaning, William Nylander moves there), or they have to split up Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to give Tampa something else to think about. Otherwise, the Leafs are praying that the two break through against an elite unit. Everything else stems from there.
They have to get something from John Tavares. He is posing zero threat at the moment, so whether he needs to play with Marner or they play him with two skilled grinders (Michael Bunting and Ondrej Kase, let’s say), they need to figure out how to get him rolling.
The recipe for success cannot be special teams, hoping for the third line to score, and banking on Jack Campbell playing excellently (which is how they won Game 3, and I would argue to some extent it’s how they won Game 1, although that was largely on the back of an awesome penalty kill).
The Leafs’ fourth line again needs mixing up. Jason Spezza has not brought the spark many (myself included) thought he would. Does that mean they return to letting Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds run around? As long as they don’t take penalties, there’s some value there, especially at home, but can the Leafs really trust them not to take penalties?
Also, if a game goes to overtime, the Leafs are a three-line team while Tampa is a four-line team. They can have one of Bunting/Kase/Kerfoot there with Colin Blackwell, in theory. Maybe Keefe throws in Simmonds and calls it a day. That would make some sense.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts