Despite dressing 17 skaters while resting Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, the Maple Leafs found a way to beat a full Lightning lineup thanks to special-teams success and some great efforts from William Nylander, Ryan O’Reilly, and Joseph Woll.

This game had the potential to be a real dud with both teams playing out the rest of the regular season with nothing on the line. But we actually got to enjoy an entertaining game that came down to the wire, with plenty of physicality and after-the-whistle scrums to warm up for round one of the playoffs.

Your game in 10:

1.   The 24 hours leading up to this game created a cloud of mystery over the Leafs‘ lineup. No one really had any idea who was going to be playing or if the Leafs would even have an NHL goalie to use in Tampa. Fortunately, they were able to use an emergency recall on Joseph Woll, and Ilya Samsonov was given the night off (he also won’t play Thursday). 

Up front, both Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner were given the game off as the Leafs continue to emphasize their load-management priorities down the stretch. Combined with their cap constraints, the Leafs were in a unique bind and dressed only 10 forwards for this game while bumping Conor Timmins up front so that they could run 11F/6D. 

Playing down a man on the road against a Lightning team that was rested and dressing its full complement of talent set the table for the Leafs to either — in the worst case — mail this one in or — in the best case — dig in even deeper and send a message about the strength of their character, resolve, depth, and overall team play ahead of round one.

It was a best-case kind of night for the Leafs.

2.   In just his second NHL game, Matthew Knies was given a chance to play in the top six with Ryan O’Reilly and William Nylander. There were inevitably some rookie mistakes to go along with the flashes of promise he showed in his debut in Florida, but the biggest thing you’re watching for is how quickly Knies is going to adjust to this level.

While it again wasn’t a perfect game, he looked a notch more comfortable against the Lightning. He used his size well along the boards to shield the puck. He made positive touches to continue offensive-zone sequences, and he put his first three NHL shots on goal — two of which really challenged Andrei Vasilevskiy, and one of which led to Ryan O’Reilly‘s game-winning goal. He stripped a few pucks tracking back. He looked like an NHL player to me on Tuesday night. 

3.   As for Knies’ linemates, they connected on the man advantage to open the scoring.

William Nylander took a dropback pass and handed it to Ryan O’Reilly as they entered the zone. O’Reilly was characteristically strong on the puck and sent a nifty little pass back to Nylander, who turned and threw a shot on net. It found its way through Andrei Vasilevsky, who was caught anticipating a cross-crease pass.

Nylander is now just one away from his first 40-goal season and has officially broken out of his rut at just the right time with tonight’s three-point effort.

4.   The Leafs’ lead did not last long. Just over a minute after the Nylander goal, the Lightning got to work on the cycle. As the puck was sent back to the point, Alex Killorn and Nick Paul both gained advantageous positioning on John Tavares and Morgan Rielly, respectively. Mikhail Sergachev sent the puck toward the net and Killorn managed to deflect it past Joseph Woll

This was a really tough ask of Woll as the shot was tipped in front of him with another Lightning skater taking his eyes away with a screen right at the top of the crease. A better job of boxing out and tying up sticks in front was needed here.

5.   In the late moments of the first period, Tampa’s fourth line pressed and the puck deflected across to Patrick Maroon, who appeared to bury a 2-1 goal under Woll. After a smart challenge by Sheldon Keefe, it was correctly determined Corey Perry interfered with Woll, and the call was reversed. It turned into a huge turning point seconds later.

The Leafs came back the other way, where Luke Schenn fired a knuckler over the shoulder of Vasilevsky for his first goal in a Leaf sweater since February of 2012, restoring the Leafs’ lead in the process.

Schenn was two-thirds of the way to the Gordie Howie by the end of the first period after he squared off with Maroon and scored a clear victory in the bout.

6.   The Lightning were flying to open the second period. The Leafs were completely on their heels as Tampa began to shell Woll, and it didn’t take long for the dam to break. 

The Point and Kucherov line rolled over a combination of David Kampf, Alex Kerfoot, and Zach Aston-Reese on this shift. ZAR didn’t complete a clearance opportunity just beforehand that would’ve alleviated the pressure and allowed for a change.

Naturally, all of the lineup shuffling in the past few games and particularly Sam Lafferty‘s injury absence has been felt in terms of stunting some of the momentum the fourth line had been building. ZAR and Kampf were outscored 2-0 and outshot 5-0 in their 4:13 of five-on-five ice time together tonight.

7.   A big part of the story in this game was obviously the penalty minute accumulation: 28 PIMs for Toronto and 24 for Tampa.

It is absolutely no surprise that the consistently most penalized team in the league dating back many years (Tampa) wanted to set a tone in this regard ahead of the first-round matchup, and the refs were determined to create a power play out of every scrum. But the Leafs did a good job of stepping up with a response amid the scrums and general antics throughout the night.

Luke Schenn took care of Pat Maroon. Ryan O’Reilly stepped in for John Tavares and roughed up Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare after the captain took a hit along the wall. Michael Bunting dropped the gloves with Corey Perry. Morgan Rielly threw a hip check — deemed a little late by the officials — that stung Ross Colton as Colton was about to barrel down on a dump-in in the third period.

The Leafs took advantage of the power-play opportunities created by the rough stuff and crushed it on the PK while not backing back away and sending some punishment back Tampa’s way ahead of next week.

8.   The result of the trigger-happy whistles from the officials meant plenty of power-play opportunities for both teams. Late in the second, the Leafs ended up with a rare 4v3 man advantage in which the four skaters were William Nylander, John Tavares, Ryan O’Reilly, and Calle Järnkrok

The Leafs had a play mapped out to send it down to Tavares at the net front, where he was looking for a redirected one-touch pass play out to Jarnkrok on the flank. It didn’t work out on the first attempt, but Tavares nudged the puck over to Jarnkrok to finish off his 20th of the season.

Tavares continues to be one of the most dangerous net-front players in the league this season with 38 points on the power play (seventh in the NHL). That’s a big leap forward from his previous best in a Leaf sweater (26), and it is making the Leaf power play that much more dynamic — hopefully in a way that translates in the postseason.

9.   The third period was actually pretty tame by comparison. It wasn’t until the final seven minutes or so that the action really started to pick up again.

It started with something Leaf fans were all waiting for: a first Matthew Knies NHL point. At first, it appeared as though Knies had scored his first career NHL goal, but it didn’t quite make it past Vasilevsky before Ryan O’Reilly tapped home the rebound. 

An excellent strip on Victor Hedman by Nylander, who stepped up in this game big time with Matthews and Marner resting, started the sequence.

The Lightning answered back in a hurry after TJ Brodie turned the puck over with a blind pass in his own zone right to Sergachev in the slot, where he rifled it top corner past Woll to bring the game back within one.

10.   That was the extent of the Lightning’s comeback effort. They pressed for the tying goal, especially with a 6v4 in the final two minutes, but the Leafs did a lot of bending but not breaking, showing an impressive willingness to do whatever it takes in terms of blocking shots and battling — a nod to Jake McCabe’s close-out effort with his battling and shot-blocking, in particular — to get this win over the line regardless of the lack of implications in the standings.

The penalty kill continues to absolutely roll at the right time of year, killing off 22 straight in their past six games, including eight kills tonight against a vaunted power play — and that’s without their top penalty-killing forward in Mitch Marner or PK regular Mark Giordano in the lineup.

Joe Woll was excellent once again in this game, tracking pucks really well and moving post-to-post with a lot of quickness/athleticism while also emanating a calmness from the crease with his control and the economy of his movement.

There is a lot of credit to go around for the Leafs’ consistency in the second half of back-to-backs (9-4-1), including their improved depth at all positions, adherence to their structure, and a seemingly strong culture around treating it just like any other game and playing hard for one another — even if the team is down a man and resting a bunch of key players. But their depth in net in particular is unquestionably a big part of that record. There has been very little drop-off when the Leafs have had to turn to their #3 this season.

Providing the environment for any goaltender to succeed is one part of it, but on a night like tonight, Woll’s performance was much more than just the byproduct of a winning environment. He was tested a lot and was legitimately very good. Six games is six games (5-0-1, .933 SV%), but with Matt Murray‘s constant health uncertainty, this is no small development looking ahead to the playoffs.

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts