Circumstances be damned, the Maple Leafs needed to win this hockey game. 

No Erik Cernak, no Victor Hedman, and no Michael Eysimmont. Down 1-0. At home. They couldn’t lose.

Not only did they even up the series, but they evened up the beatdown count, too, this time running it up on Tampa with a 7-2 win.

Your game in 10:

1.    In Game 1, the Leafs started by line matching with the Ryan O’Reilly line against the Anthony Cirelli line (the matchup they wanted). Toronto won the faceoff and iced it for no reason.

In Game 2, the Lightning again declared they were starting the Cirelli line, but this time, Sheldon Keefe went right at it with the Auston Matthews line, and the Leafs — namely, Mitch Marner — drew a power play right away.

O’Reilly won the faceoff — another benefit of his presence on the top unit — and the puck worked its way to Marner at the top of the right circle, where he simply took a slap shot and scored. There was a little traffic courtesy of ROR and John Tavares, but it wasn’t fully in Andrei Vasilevskiy’s face, and he almost looked surprised by the whole play.

We have seen playoff series where, by the end of it, Marner was scared to shoot — namely, against Columbus and Montreal. He was hesitant and overpassed constantly. In this game, he got the puck, confidently wound up, and ripped a bomb by an elite goalie with marginal traffic. 

2.    The Leafs came out in this game with some jam, clearly ticked off and potentially even slightly embarrassed by Game 1. Tampa Bay owned the front of the Leafs net in the first game, but when there was a scramble early on tonight and Corey Perry lingered in front of the net (as he does), Mark Giordano took exception.

Giordano gave him a shot, a scrum broke out, and Giordano didn’t back down, agreeing to fight Pierre Edouard Bellemare. The only problem was that the linesman held onto Bellemare and moved him away, so Bogosian dropped his gloves and stepped in.

I have said this a million times, but if two grown men agree to fight and it’s a reasonably fair matchup, the refs should not be going out of their way to stop it. This dates back to refs stopping Dion Phaneuf and Jarome Iginla from going. It is ridiculous.

Jake McCabe also took a needless penalty on Corey Perry, hitting him twice in front of the net and getting sent to the box. Against Boston in the regular season, he took a retaliation penalty against Charlie Coyle. He did the same against Columbus’ Josh Dunne. He leads the team in penalties since the acquisition and needs to do a better job picking and choosing his spots.

The heat was definitely cranked up, but the Leaf were playing a 1-2-2 in the neutral zone and almost trapping a Tampa team that was icing half of an AHL defense. In the first half of the period, the shots were 7-1 for Tampa. They completely dominated Tampa in the second — as they should have — but it would have been nice to see them come out and be more aggressive from the puck drop.

3.   After the Leafs killed the McCabe penalty, a line of William NylanderAuston MatthewsMitch Marner went to work and pushed for some offense as Matthews circled the net and set up Morgan Rielly for a one-timer that got deflected into the crowd.

On the ensuing offensive-zone faceoff that they earned, John Tavares ended up taking it against winger Brandon Hagel. He won the draw, Rielly streaked down the wall with the puck, and Hagel (not a center) didn’t cover Tavares very well as he popped open in the slot. Rielly found him with a nice pass that Tavares finished off.

It was a nice piece of veteran savvy from Tavares to take advantage of Hagel there. As has always been the case, Tavares is absolute money with the puck on his stick below the top of the circle in the offensive zone.

4.    That goal seemed to not only calm the Leafs down a bit, but it went to their legs and they started cranking up the pressure. The William Nylander goal started with a delayed penalty on Steven Stamkos that was the result of Jake McCabe gapping up well, which is what we wanted to see more of from the Leafs: aggressiveness at the blue line rather than making it a cakewalk for Tampa to enter the zone and create offense.

McCabe jammed him up as Stamkos’ stick got caught and clipped McCabe in the face. The Leafs then went down the ice and dominated the zone, culminating in Auston Matthews recovering the puck after his own one-timer attempt — which is a notable second effort instead of allowing Tampa to touch it and taking the power play.

Matthews got the puck to Morgan Rielly, who absolutely ripped a pass across to Nylander, who walked in untouched and ripped one high and in on Andrei Vasilevskiy. It was a great shot — and I don’t want to take anything away from Nylander, or Marner earlier, for that matter — but these are shots you would kind of expect Vasilevskiy to save.

The Leafs do have scoring talent — and I’m almost hesitant to write it — but they haven’t had too much trouble scoring on Andrei Vasilevskiy so far. Even last year, he looked mortal for long stretches, and when Tampa locked it down, it was really the team selling out defensively rather than superhuman performances from the goaltender.

5.    Down 3-0, Tampa tried to generate some early by putting out the Point line twice in the first two minutes, but they generated little and the Leafs took the game completely over. They fully tilted the Lightning for roughly eight minutes in the second.  The Leafs, the best second-period team in the league, just kept it rolling in this one, with long offensive-zone shifts featuring line changes and all kinds of offense.

To wit, Noel Acciari went on a mini breakaway, John Tavares had a backhand chance in the slot, Matthew Knies torched Nick Perbix in the corner and brought it to the net (flashing a nice power forward move), Ryan O’Reilly had a chance in the slot (off an Acciari hit) and William Nylander fed Alex Kerfoot all alone in the slot for a one-timer chance.

At one point, there was a particularly dominant shift from the Matthews line where they worked Tampa the entire time. It looked like a Leaf power play, and Tampa — minus Cernak and Hedman — had no answer for long cycles and own-zone shifts. It was nice to see the Leafs come out up three and hunt for blood. They just couldn’t score.

6.   When you dominate for 10 minutes and have nothing to show for it on the scoreboard, that usually means something bad is coming the other way.

It started in the offensive zone as the Leafs were hemming in the Lightning before Justin Holl grabbed the puck and just skated into a dead end. He did this a number of times in the game where he just skated down the wall, realized he backed himself into a corner, froze up, and gave it away. He needs to throw it on the net or just dump it deep at that point.

Eventually, Ryan O’Reilly made maybe his only poor play of the entire game — he didn’t get the puck in deep, and Tampa countered on an odd-man rush that the Leafs played horribly.

Mark Giordano and William Nylander both skated at Steven Stamkos. That is as easy as it gets for an elite player like Stamkos. With two Leafs defending him, he knew instantly that someone was open and he just needed to pick out the pass. Ian Cole did well to pull it to his backhand and finish it off.

7.    If Morgan Rielly is going to play with Luke Schenn, and you have the shutdown pairing (Jake McCabeTJ Brodie) and a defensive zone pairing (Mark GiordanoJustin Holl), Morgan Rielly has to run wild offensively. That’s the only way this is worth it.

Well, tonight, Reilly ran wild offensively. We have mentioned this throughout the season — and actually back to last season as well — but the only Leaf who has consistently shown up come playoff time is Rielly.

With three points to his name already, this time he joined the rush at five-on-five off some sloppy play from the Lightning in the neutral zone. Nylander smelled blood on the play, pouncing on the available puck. With Rielly alongside him, the pair had a nice little give-and-go that resulted in a kicked-out rebound that John Tavares buried with ease.

Rielly was flying in this game, activating as the offensive force we know he can be and what a team needs from the defense at playoff time. He’s the guy to do it, and he did it well tonight.

8.    I am not going to write a point out for each goal — the Leafs scored so many of them — but the fifth goal was a thing of beauty. Zach Aston-Reese got the puck in deep and forechecked hard. Sam Lafferty used his speed to support it and pick up the loose puck before David Kampf got open in the slot, shot it, and ZAR — who started the play — jammed home the rebound.

Goal aside, the forecheck with the hit and turnover is what ZAR needs to do to be effective. He is a meat-and-potatoes player — not a backhand pass in his own zone in the first minute of the game type of player.

Shortly after, Mitch Marner threw a puck to the net off another offensive-zone possession, and it deflected off a Lightning player and in. It speaks to something the Leafs need to do a little more consistently: Just throw pucks on the net, go to the net, and make good things happen. It doesn’t have to be pretty. 

9.    You knew the third period would be a joke. The Leafs, in Game 1, did absolutely nothing the entire period. The Lightning started their fourth line and when the Leafs iced it, they kept them out there instead of putting out the Point line. Corey Perry had an early breakaway and even scored a little later. Tampa went after the Leafs, including Luke Schenn being continually challenged to fight until he did.

Justin Holl fought and lost to Perry (Holl fought RNH earlier this season and is just not a good fighter). It was also stunning that Vasilevskiy was kept in the net the whole game.

When the Leafs got a 5v3 after all the garbage, I like that they loaded up and tried to keep scoring. It led to John Tavares finishing his hat trick. Shortly after it all, ROR was robbed in front.

The Leafs were trying to run it up until the final Maroon penalty with just over two minutes left when the Leafs sent out their second unit. They got a 5v3 right away afterward and still kept their second unit on the ice.

10.   The forward line shakeup was effective. Ryan O’Reilly can clearly drive a line all on his own, and he is the needle-moving X factor we discussed in the series preview. He only grabbed the one late secondary assist in a game in which the Leafs scored seven goals, and he was still one of their best players. He won every battle, and when Tampa made it 3-1 and made a little charge, it was ROR who jumped over the boards and settled things down. He grabbed the puck in the offensive zone and put together a good shift to quiet the game down.

In Game 1, the ROR line with John Tavares and William Nylander played with the TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano pairing. In Game 2, it was more split; Tavares and Nylander played with the Morgan Rielly and Luke Schenn pairing, while the ROR line played with the Giordano pairing. It’s a small tweak, but it led to more offense from Rielly and the Tavares line while the ROR-led five-man unit was rock solid compared to the nightmare that defense pairing experienced in the first game.

The big note, though — one that will get zero attention — is who played the most against the Stamkos line. Obviously, it was Brodie and McCabe on defense, but at forward? It was the David Kampf line. There was none of the hubris from Keefe in this game about locking and loading the Matthews line against anybody. He turned to a checking line, who kept their matchup in check, and he freed up Rielly to ride shotgun offensively with Tavares and Nylander. He challenged the Tampa checking unit led by Cirelli to shut down Matthews and Marner. They didn’t.

Ilya Samsonov rebounded, which is probably the most notable thing of all. They will need him to be good to win this series.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts