The Toronto Maple Leafs could be holding a 3-0 series lead versus the two times defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning. However, a brief lack of discipline during the second period of Game 2 in Toronto didn’t help. And with that, they now have to hustle a little harder to win this thing. But the Maple Leafs skill set should be able to help. Let that thought simmer for a moment.
Toronto Maple Leafs Skill Set Helps Gain Series Advantage
Physicality Was Lacking – But Now It Exists
For five years, following each first-round exit, one didn’t have to search far and wide to find a voice suggesting a lack of toughness doomed the Toronto Maple Leafs once again. Head coach Sheldon Keefe perhaps believed that to be partially true. Putting Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds into the lineup for the opening game of the series should’ve helped with that problem. However, it almost backfired in Game 1. Simmonds’ penalties, self-admittedly, were a big deterrent to the Leafs being victorious in Game 2.
But, even though it might not work every time, their role should not be dismissed. There is a time and place for team members to stand up for each other. It is highly likely that most teammates respect, and are thankful, for their efforts. However, if it is not harnessed properly, the lack of discipline can prove costly. It could have resulted in a Game 1 loss, and probably cost them the win in Game 2. Fortunately, the skill and speed of the team forever called “soft” has been there in key moments to give them the series lead to this point. Ironic.
Maple Leafs Skill Is In Everyone
Early in Game 3, fans of the Lightning were ready to erupt. Brayden Point was in an ideal position to let them raise the roof with excitement. Leafs goalie Jack Campbell wouldn’t cooperate. He has made more athletic saves throughout the year, but not many were as important. His save kept a lid on the crowd and allowed the visiting Leafs to settle into the game.
Not long after Campbell’s save on Point, the Leafs power play went to work. Multiple shot attempts resulted in a rebound arriving on Morgan Rielly‘s stick. The Maple Leafs most offensively skilled and best skating defensemen deposited it in the open net for the all-important first goal.
Another key moment of Game 3 arrived about halfway through the first period. Ilya Lyubushkin exited the penalty box to join Pierre Engvall and Colin Blackwell on a three-on-one rush. Lyubushkin has been a welcome hard-hitting, mid-season addition to the blueline. Added toughness for the defence corps. A modern-day Dmitri Yushkevich.
In this play, his offence was needed. After accepting Engvall’s pass, he calmly carried the puck over Tampa Bay’s blueline. Engvall drove to the far post. While every Leaf fan watching at home screamed “Shoot!”, he waited until the last possible moment and passed it off to a trailing Blackwell to finish off the play. A gorgeous play from an unexpected source. Perhaps, hanging around some of his highly skilled teammates is rubbing off.
Skill Has Showed Up Throughout The Series
Clifford’s overexuberance could have proved costly during the first game of the series. The Leafs skating ability from the likes of penalty-killers Mitch Marner, Alexander Kerfoot, Pierre Engvall, David Kampf, and Ilya Mikheyev bailed him out. In fact, it produced numerous short-handed scoring chances and got the home crowd going. The major penalty was successfully killed off.
Later in the same period of Game 1, the Leafs power play went to work after being given a 5-on-3 advantage. After a timeout to discuss things their number one unit whipped a few passes back and forth behind the net to tee it up for a streaking Auston Matthews approaching from the blueline. His bullet gave the Leafs an early two-goal cushion and they never looked back. It’s not supposed to look that easy, but on that play it did.
Marner’s Game 1 goal was patience at its finest. His dogged forechecking and penalty-killing have been an early key in this series. The make-your-jaw-drop passes are also still there. Campbell has made some critical saves. None more athletic and important than late in Game 3 on Steven Stamkos. From the off-wing office that he shares with Alex Ovechkin, Stamkos looked poised to deposit a one-timer for the tying goal that likely would have sent the game to overtime. Campbell stretched across to somehow deny him. A huge early-series save that could be looked back on as a momentum shifter.
Maple Leafs Skill Set Combines Grit And Skilled Players
Grit and toughness will always be important in playoff hockey. It can be shown in different ways and must be used with discipline. This first-round series involves two of the most skilled teams in the National Hockey League and right now, the “Champs” are on the ropes. It’s the Toronto Maple Leafs skill and finesse that have put them there.
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