Good teams find ways to win, and that’s what the Maple Leafs did in Game 3.
It was not a picture-perfect game or one they can get away with regularly, but you usually need to win a couple of these along the way if you are going to go deep in the playoffs. Now the Leafs are up 2-1 in the series and have stolen back home-ice advantage.
Your game in 10:
1. When a series shifts to Game 3, it is always interesting to see how the new home team shifts the matchups.
The forward matchups were essentially the same. The Auston Matthews line went head-to-head with the Anthony Cirelli line. The Brayden Point line still played the most against the David Kampf checking line. The Ryan O’Reilly line drew the Pierre Bellemare line, and the John Tavares line got the Nick Paul line.
In Game 2, Keefe put the Tavares line out there against Hayden Fleury and Zach Bogosian. In this one, they primarily went up against Mikhail Sergachev and Darren Raddysh. That pairing also saw the most ice time against Matthews, whereas in Game 2 it was Ian Cole who played the most against #34.
That also meant that Victor Hedman was mainly going head-to-head with O’Reilly after playing against the Sergachev pairing the game before.
The forward line matching reasonably stayed the same; it was the defense matchups that were adjusted.
2. On the first shift of the game, Auston Matthews came in and set the tone by running over Brandon Hagel. William Nylander also got the better of Ross Colton in a battle afterward.
It was a good start for the Leafs and got even better as Tampa was applying some pressure, the puck went up Matthew Knies’ wall, and Noel Acciari slashed across to center for the chip play. Knies didn’t get it, but the puck went to TJ Brodie, who did a great job in flipping the puck to center, which led to a 3v2 for the Leafs. Morgan Rielly tapped it to Knies, who was streaking down the wing and made the right play to drop it to Acciari all alone as the high man.
Ryan O’Reilly was on Acciari’s right, which is a one-time spot for ROR, and because of that, he opened up for a one-timer pass. Ian Cole cheated over to ROR, so Acciari took the time and space available, walked in, and shot it. He beat Vasilevskiy cleanly — the kind of depth goal that’s really impressive as he’s simply beating a goalie straight up.
Acciari had gone 25 straight playoff games without a single point. Perhaps this one goes to his confidence and he starts to heat up.
3. Tampa tied the game not even two minutes later on a goal that really highlights the Leafs‘ defensive neutral zone play.
They have been playing a 1-2-2 neutral zone forecheck that is passive at best. There is one Leaf pressuring before center, two forwards between center and the blue line, and often the Leafs defense is actually inside the blue line.
Victor Hedman actually fans on the puck at first, but he has so much space he gets it back and calmly makes the pass properly. Alex Kerfoot and Morgan Rielly both skate to Hagel, who passed it by both of them to Alex Killorn. Hagel then found Anthony Cirelli wide open on the far side, where he walked in and scored.
It’s a really easy goal stemming the Leafs’ passiveness in the neutral zone.
4. Auston Matthews started the game with a nice hit and kept it rolling from there as he got in on the forecheck, hit Darren Raddysh off the puck, created the turnover, and the Leafs went to work.
Luke Schenn’s original shot was blocked, but it bounced right back to him, and instead of trying to force it through, he passed it to the far side to Calle Jarnkrok. As Marner pulled high, Jarnkrok fed him a pass that he one-timed and Matthews tipped it in.
I said it after the last game, but it is nice to see Mitch Marner confidently shooting the puck on net when he has opportunities to do so. It doesn’t have to be a snipe or a bomb, but it does have to get to the net.
Matthews took care of the rest from there, once again battling with Raddysh and once again winning the battle to get positioning so that he can get a stick on the shot and change its trajectory.
TONE TIME! 👀⏰ pic.twitter.com/O4YdWFOYZU
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 22, 2023
5. As the first period came to a close, the Leafs took a penalty and did well to kill it off. It should also be noted as an aside that Justin Holl drew two penalties in this game to negate Tampa power plays and made a big block on a Steven Stamkos one-timer on one of the power plays.
It was a huge penalty-killing effort from him and TJ Brodie (who led the team with six blocks) as Tampa went 0/3 on the power play. The asterisk is the end of the first as the Leafs technically killed off the penalty but Tampa had possession and kept applying pressure.
When the puck went behind the net and was passed out to Hagel below the top of the circle, Ilya Samsonov almost guessed where the puck was going and went the other way. By the time he slid over, he made the initial stop, but he was in an awkward position, and the puck managed to trickle in. It was not a good goal in an otherwise really good game from Samsonov.
6. The second period was one of the Leafs’ worst periods of the season. Tampa Bay generated 27 shot attempts and carried expected goals at over 63 percent. But the stats don’t really tell the story.
The Leafs, inexplicably, could not break out. Pucks were bouncing over sticks, they couldn’t string passes together, and Tampa repeatedly hemmed them in. The lines were kept the same (they were finally shaken up in the third as Matthew Knies and Mitch Marner, in particular, were moved around), and it was just wave after wave of Tampa domination.
The saving grace was that Tampa only scored one goal to show for it. The goal was the second time this series — the first was the first goal of the series — where Tampa was able to go behind the Leafs’ net with the puck and walk out on the other side unscathed and shoot freely.
Jake McCabe had Raddysh lined up, and there is no world where McCabe can let him through. He did hit him, but Raddysh just bounced off of him and kept going. It’s fine to lay the hit there, but he needs to make a play on the puck and/or run him over.
The goal really summed up the period, but again, the fact that the Leafs were only down one kept the door open.
7. In terms of the hit and the brawl, there is a lot to unpack.
On the play itself, it’s simply two players competing for the puck. We can see Point braces for contact with Morgan Rielly on the original point of contact, and they both jockey for body positioning. That is a very standard race for a puck battle. It almost looks like Point is trying to make a play on the puck with his skate, and in the process, his body opens up, making him vulnerable at that point.
Point is skating fast, Rielly is leaning on him, and once he lost leverage, Rielly just finished right through him. He’s not a dirty player by any stretch of the imagination, and there was really nothing dirty about the play. It’s just a puck battle that ended poorly.
Rielly then got jumped by Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos gave an extra crosscheck for good measure, and chaos ensued. Stamkos grabbed Auston Matthews and basically gave him no choice. Matthews has never been in a fight in the NHL, so it went roughly how you would expect it to, but I’ll give him credit in that when he went down, he could have stayed down/turtled, but instead, he actively got up and tried to keep going. A few punches in, once he realized what was happening, Matthews didn’t back down.
It was also nice to have Luke Schenn between the benches when Tampa’s tough guys started acting up.
There is gamesmanship to these series and a game within a game. We have seen before how teams just have their way with the Leafs; at times, there has been little in the way of a response.
All in all, I think this whole sequence will end up being positive for the team. The only unfortunate part was the Leafs having 3/5ths of their top power play in the box. The makeshift unit that went out did nothing at a time when the Leafs were chasing the game.
8. Two criticisms I’ve had of this Leafs coaching staff over the years are that they ride their top players into the ground and they don’t play the hot hand even when stars are not producing.
Before the Leafs pulled the goalie and tied the game, the line on the ice was Calle Jarnkrok – David Kampf – Noel Acciari with under three minutes left. There have been times over the years when we’ve seen the stars play the entire three or four final minutes of the game, leaving them with no gas left in the tank to make a real push.
In this case, the unit went out with two minutes left — which, when you include any sort of faceoff/timeout combination, is an appropriate amount of time. They also left John Tavares on the bench as he did not have a particularly good game. Instead, Matthew Knies, who was buzzing at times, was out there. These are tough decisions, but the bottom line is to do what is best for the team.
In terms of the goal itself, it was a really smart play by William Nylander. ROR had body position in front. He’s really not shooting to score there. The Lightning had the house jammed up, and getting a shot through from the point was going to be difficult. Nylander had a little space, curled in, and threw one on the net for a rebound play.
ROR did very well to kick the puck to his stick and bat home the rebound in a tough area to make plays. He knows he’s going to get hit there — and he got buried right after scoring — but he hung in there and made a play.
RYAN O'REILLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/QWLRIHABXR
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 23, 2023
It’s almost difficult to put into words how much of a game-changer ROR is. He plays every situation. He makes game-breaking plays. Keefe has mentioned a number of times that he talks more than anyone on the bench. He has walked in and added a credible star and alpha-type to the group as a big-game player.
9. In overtime, the Leafs didn’t necessarily look nervous or anything, but the Lightning carried play. Nikita Kucherov generated a number of chances, including walking Mark Giordano and getting a good backhand off, a 2v1 with Paul and Colton, and a backdoor play where it looked like Raddysh had an empty net for a second before shooting it wide.
Ilya Samsonov stood tall in the third period to keep it a one-goal game — in particular, he robbed Colton and Paul on separate plays in the slot, and in overtime, he was calm and steady. The Leafs only put five shots on net in what was essentially a full period of play.
At times, they were hemmed in their zone. When they did execute clean breakouts, Tampa played them tight in the neutral zone and generally forced the Leafs to dump the puck in. From there, the Leafs often struggled to turn it over on the forecheck and hem in Tampa.
One of the only times they didn’t have to dump it in, Matthew Knies and William Nylander executed a nice little give-and-go for their best scoring chance.
10. Moments before Morgan Rielly’s overtime winner, Justin Holl floated a seeing-eye shot on net from the point that hit the post. Of course, the Rielly overtime winner was much of the same, and it highlights something of note: For as much talk as we hear now about shot quality and expected goals — which has validity over an 82-game season — at playoff time when there is little space to work with and teams are selling out defensively to block shots, sometimes offense is simply about throwing the puck on net and getting bodies there.
We noted it last game after Mitch Marner’s point shot took a deflection and went in: It is noteworthy that Ryan O’Reilly won the faceoff clean. That allowed Rielly to actually take a second, look around, and shoot instead of just swatting at the puck. That extra time made all the difference.
Rielly put a good shot through, and it went in. A big Leafs win.
RIELLY FROM O'REILLY BABY!!! 🗣 pic.twitter.com/3410Yet87n
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 23, 2023