I can’t believe it happened again. I mean, I can, but really, I can’t.
I am not entirely sure what to say here. Brayden Point got knocked out of the game with an injury. The Leafs were at home. They tied the game. Nikita Kucherov was out there looking less than engaged unless Tampa was on a power play. The Leafs have to find a way to push through and win this game. They just have to.
You can argue the Leafs played well – generally speaking, they did this series! – and you can say those are the breaks – that does happen! – but at some point, they need to win. This is year six with most of this core.
That is unfathomable. Sure, Tampa’s a great team, but they haven’t beaten the weaker teams, either. This can’t be a goldilocks “just right” situation that they need to align in order to actually win a series. It is far past the time to celebrate moral victories.
It’s just disappointing on so many levels.
Your game in 10:
1. I thought Sheldon Keefe had a great strategy to start this game. Jon Cooper has to declare his starting lineup first, and he chose to load up his top matchup line right away led by Brayden Point and Victor Hedman on defense.
If you are the home team, you don’t hide from that to start a game. Keefe responded with the Auston Matthews line and the Jake Muzzin pairing. The Leafs even won the shift and got the crowd going (a good forecheck by Mitch Marner led to a turnover and some zone time). By the third shift of the game, Cooper put out his third line led by Nick Paul and Keefe responded by double shifting the Matthews line to get them his preferred matchup instead of the Point line. A little “game within the game” chess playing there.
The Leafs got off to a good start. John Tavares had a good chance off an Alex Kerfoot pass, Marner had a good chance, and even David Kampf had a good opportunity in the slot off of a Pierre Engvall pass. I’m sure there was some level of nerves — that’s normal and these are human beings — but the Leafs did not come out tentative in this one.
Unfortunately, neither did Andrei Vasilevskiy.
2. If there’s one area you wish went a little better in the first period, it’s the power play. They had some decent zone time, but they didn’t create – or take – enough shots. They even had William Nylander primarily on the half-wall.
The first power play was at least decent and generated a little, but after Tampa Bay scored, the Leafs generated a good response, drew a power play, and essentially did nothing with it. Power plays aren’t about how much you score; they are about when you score and if you are able to generate momentum.
It was the end of the period, Tampa has just scored, and the Leafs had a chance to tie it up going into intermission. They didn’t even set it up properly. Their only chance of note came after the buzzer went.
3. As just noted, Tampa Bay struck first in this one off of a Nick Paul goal. The Leafs were opening the play up and going for it, and while they had a number of good chances, it was Tampa Bay that ended up coming down on the counterattack on a rush led by Nick Paul, who dropped it to Ross Colton, who essentially just shot it as hard as he could.
Credit it to him. The Leafs passed on a few shots in the first period, and Tampa was doing what a team should in the playoffs: hammering pucks to the net and driving hard for rebounds.
I don’t want to say it was a horrible play by Morgan Rielly, but he could have done better on it. Paul was able to easily poke at it with one hand and score. Rielly didn’t get a puck on the stick, and he didn’t really get in Paul’s way physically. You have to do one or the other. He did neither, and Tampa suddenly led a game in which the Leafs were playing reasonably well to start.
4. In the first period, I thought the Leafs came out well, but to start the middle frame, they seemed far more nervous. Jack Campbell made a big save early on Corey Perry. When the Leafs got their chances, they largely started overthinking it — in particular, a TJ Brodie attempt where he walked in, hesitated, side-stepped the Tampa defender, and still didn’t shoot.
Campbell also made another big save on Nick Paul all alone in front. He kept the game within arm’s reach all night. The controversy, of course, will be the disallowed goal John Tavares scored. I know a lot of fans won’t want to hear it – and trust me I understand – but I thought it was clearly interference.
The only reason he was able to cut in is that Justin Holl ran a pick. The whistle went off before he even scored, but you couldn’t hear it clearly with the fan excitement. It’s not like it was a behind-the-play type of thing. It literally created the goal.
I’m not going to sit here and say, “Well, they also didn’t call this or that, or how about this precedent?” I am just saying, in isolation, it was a penalty that led to a (called off) goal.
5. The Leafs largely played this game too cute. 14 shots through the two periods is not nearly good enough.
In the second period, they did score a pretty goal. Mitch Marner sliced through the neutral zone and bumped it over to Auston Matthews, who quickly flipped it to a wide-open Morgan Rielly, and he buried high short side.
Rielly has had a few big playoff goals over the years, including one earlier this series in Game 5 to tie the game. He also scored a go-ahead goal against the Canadiens when the series was tied 1-1 and opened the scoring against Boston back in 2019 when the Leafs were up 3-2 playing at home to try to close the series.
In fact, Rielly has scored in five of the Leafs’ six playoff runs. In his career, he has 25 points in 39 playoff games. Considering the way the forwards in front of him have wavered between effective and ineffective each year, you can’t ask for much more from him — offensively, anyway.
6. Once they scored and tied the game, the goal went right to the Leafs’ legs. David Kampf had a good scoring chance in front and William Nylander broke through for a breakaway. On Auston Matthews’ first shift after they tied it, he came out and ripped a shot that Vasilevskiy made a good save on.
And then Nick Paul scored, again. Look, TJ Brodie has been good since he arrived in Toronto. He defended this poorly, though. He didn’t get his stick on the puck enough and he made about zero body contact with Paul on the 1v1. You have to do one, the other, or both. It can’t be neither.
Instead, Paul made a great play with his feet, broke through, and scored a nice (game-winning) goal that you could hardly blame Campbell for.
7. If the Leafs were a little nervous starting the second period down a goal, they were really nervous starting the third period. It won’t get much attention now – which is completely fair – but Jack Campbell made a huge save early on a 3v1 that Justin Holl actually played quite well defensively.
Shortly after, Perry walked in off the rush and ripped a good slapshot that Campbell saved. As we said, Campbell more than gave them a chance tonight. If we go into this game and I tell you Campbell is only giving up two, you would sign on the dotted line without blinking. That’s more than enough to win.
8. As much as officials were a hot topic in this series, the Leafs went 0/3 on the power play tonight. That included the refs calling a rather weak penalty against Ondrej Palat in the third period.
Down one at home, it was the Leafs’ third power play of the night. Auston Matthews and William Nylander had a few shot attempts, but there were zero 10-bell chances created. They were static for most of it, and the second half of the power play completely fizzled out.
They definitely needed more out of their power play than they got in this series. For the series, they went 4/28 on the power play, and they gave up a shorthanded goal. They created chances, sure, but they ultimately carried over what they were doing in April through to the playoffs.
I would argue the power play looked its best with Mark Giordano manning the point – and they even scored one of their few goals with him on it.
9. The final 10 minutes looked a lot like the problems we’ve seen in years past to me. Tampa simply committed to blocking shots and making the Leafs work for it. They were not going to score another tic-tac-toe goal to tie it up.
It was difficult for the Leafs to get inside and their defense was having trouble getting pucks through. We saw multiple forwards take laps around the net with the puck instead of dropping a shoulder and trying to drive inside. Vasilevskiy was really good in the third period, but I wouldn’t say he made a bunch of five-star saves.
Four of the Leafs’ top nine forwards had zero shots on net in this one. By comparison, only Palat in Tampa’s top nine didn’t put a shot on goal.
10. For whatever it’s worth, John Tavares had two huge faceoff wins at the end to help the Leafs set up some offense. Auston Matthews ripped a puck through that Jason Spezza got some of, but not enough (it was an insanely difficult play).
I’ll forever be haunted by Morgan Rielly settling for a wrist shot attempt (that was blocked) instead of dumping it off on the wall to a wide-open Matthews (literally the most open he was the entire time).
For all the talk last year about Mitch Marner being unwilling to be taken off the half-wall last playoff, he did that this series — and at the end — without any hesitation whatsoever. It might not be worth much to many right now, but I thought that was notable.
Ultimately, though, they struggled to get pucks through and create.
Thank you to everyone for following our coverage all year. I genuinely thought the Leafs were going to break through, and with the way Florida looked in round one, I would be lying if I said I didn’t let my mind wander to what might be next at times.
I am truly gutted about this loss, but I am truly thankful for all of your support and passion throughout the year. Whether we are agreeing on things or arguing them until our faces go blue, I love the interaction. Genuinely, I do.
I wish we could all experience a run together. I thought that was this year (and also did last year). Once again, we are forced to stare a round-one loss in the eyes and wonder, “What’s next?”