The Maple Leafs won the game they should have lost, which they never do

The Maple Leafs won the game they should have lost, which they never do

It’s almost always futile to look for “signs” or “omens” in playoff hockey. The next bounce off someone’s ass doesn’t really care what happened before, and apparently, this season, neither will the next call the ref misses but still manages to leave your D-man maimed, and the opposing forward an open path to your net.

But that doesn’t stop fans, especially tortured ones (if only in their own mind), from looking for anything that might indicate a change in fortunes. If you’re a Maple Leafs fan, you’ll drink any form of sand in the desert. And yesterday’s comeback win over the Lightning that gave the Leafs a 2-1 lead in the series is an especially tasty bit of sand.

Make no mistake, the Leafs were terrible for most of the 79 minutes of Game 3. They were thoroughly outshot, out-attempted, and out-chanced by the Lightning. Ilya Samsonov came out extremely jumpy in net and looked like he was trying to make three saves at once. They treated the puck like it was some active rodent, and their slow (and getting slower) defense was snowed in by the Lightning for the most part.

The numbers are ugly. At even strength, the Lightning had 65 percent of the attempts. They had 64.5 percent of the expected goals. They had 63 percent of the scoring chances. In Games 1 and 3, the Lightning have feasted on the Maple Leafs’ need for their forwards to do just about everything. Other than yesterday’s hero Morgan Rielly, the Leafs’ defensive corps cannot create enough time for themselves to complete a pass, much less join in any offensive rush, or possession. The Leafs are dependent on their forwards to carry the puck 170 feet or more to get up the ice. Especially yesterday, that has played right into Tampa’s strangulation 1-1-3 defensive plan.

They shouldn’t be leading, but they are

And yet… the Leafs lead the series. They found a way, which is not a sentence one ever writes about the Leafs, at least not in a positive fashion. Their star players just pulled them out of it. Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews created a turnover and havoc in the Lightning zone, and eventually the former found the latter for a tip to score to give them a 2-1 lead in the first that could have, and should have, gotten away from them. Ryan O’Reilly tied the game with less than a minute to go. And Rielly, the only blue-liner on the Leafs who doesn’t look like he’s skating through toxic waste, floated in the overtime winner.

Those four players also happen to be Toronto’s leading scorers through the first three games, where the Lightning have been more paced by their depth players like Cory Perry, or Anthony Cirelli. Tampa can take heart from that because their stars are likely to chip in in a big way at some point, but they’re also starting to run a little short on time. They can also take heard that in the two games Victor Hedman has played, they’ve mostly rolled the Leafs aside from a third period in a Game 1 that was already decided. The Leafs have no such player on their back end who just calms things down.

And yet…they lead 2-1. Yes, they were here just last year. They even led 3-2 last year and went into overtime with a chance to end it. They didn’t. They had Andrei Vasilevskiy looking a little shaky then, just as they do now. But this Lightning team, with the exceeding mileage on it with yet another deep run from last spring added to it, probably isn’t as capable of as many dominant performances as it once was. It just wasted one of them.

It’s never a good idea to get on the Leafs bandwagon. It smells and it has a brackish clientele. But it’s still rolling, which after yesterday, is something of a new trick.

Original source here

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.