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How the Toronto Maple Leafs Stack Up Against Likely Playoff Opponent

Although it’s the end of January, there appears to be one Stanley Cup Playoff matchup already set. The Boston Bruins have all but wrapped up the Atlantic Division title. And one of the Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers and Detroit Red Wings will likely finish fourth in the division.

Then there are the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning battling it out for second and third. These two teams played an exciting seven-game series in the first round of last season’s playoffs. The Lightning came back from a 3-2 series deficit to advance to the second round.

These two teams should provide another intriguing first-round matchup.

How the Toronto Maple Leafs Stack Up Against the Tampa Bay Lightning


Forwards Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point have been the offensive engine for the Lightning for many seasons, especially in the playoffs. Mikhail Sergachev has supplanted Victor Hedman to become the team’s leading scorer among defencemen. The loss of Ondrej Palat hurts.

For the Maple Leafs, the offence comes from four names up front: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares. Each one plays at a point per game clip and forms a formidable every power play. Defencemen Morgan Rielly has missed some games due to injury but should be up to speed for the playoffs.

With the two teams nearly tied in goals scored this season, four is greater than three. Tampa Bay’s limited cap space makes it so that an impact scorer likely isn’t coming at the trade deadline.

Advantage: Maple Leafs


The Lightning are led by Hedman and Sergachev on the back end. After that, the talent level drops off substantially. Veterans Ian Cole and Zach Bogosian are in their 30s now, while Erik Cernak and Cal Foote are steady.

The Maple Leafs do not possess a dominant defenceman, but the whole play better than the sum of the parts. Rielly and T.J. Brodie are supported by Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin, who have improved greatly this season. Veteran Mark Giordano and steady Justin Holl complete a solid core of six.

The older Lightning group has played a lot of hockey in the last few seasons. The, shall we say, rested, younger Leafs group has taken a big step forward this season. The Leafs have allowed fewer goals in more games than the Lightning this season, and the team is still expected to add a defenceman at the trade deadline.

Advantage: Maple Leafs


Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Lightning remains one of the best goaltenders in the league. His statistics are outstanding; he is one of the few workhorses in the game. His star shines even brighter in the playoffs.

Matt Murray has been the story for the Maple Leafs this season. The most-asked question was goaltending, but his play has silenced the critics thus far. And Ilya Samsonov has been a solid backup.

As a team, the numbers are comparable, but Vasilevskiy is the best goaltender in the series. There’s no move general manager Kyle Dubas can make to close this gap.

Advantage: Lightning

Special Teams

As mentioned earlier, there is no shortage of power play talent on these two teams; that is a wash. However, the Lightning have been the better team on the penalty kill.

Advantage: Lightning


Simply put, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper wins. The Prince George, BC native won titles at the NAHL, USHL, and AHL levels before capturing two Stanley Cups in the last three seasons.

Maple Leafs bench boss Sheldon Keefe has won a Calder Cup with the Toronto Marlies but is not in the same category as Cooper.

Advantage: Lightning


The Lightning have been to three straight Stanley Cup Finals. The Maple Leafs have lost in the first round in the past six campaigns. They have not won a playoff series since 2004.

However, the recent success of the Lightning means more games. With three long playoff runs, many players have skated in the equivalent of an extra season. That has to play a factor at some point.

The Lightning and Leafs are in a dead heat for second place in the division. While the home-ice advantage is attractive, it should not tip the scales one way or the other.

Advantage: Draw

As you can see, the Lightning check many boxes when matched up against the Maple Leafs. Will the Lightning eliminate the Leafs en route to another Stanley Cup title? History would say the Lightning will move on.

Of course, both teams will be looking to make some additions ahead of the March 3rd trade deadline. While this could change the complexion of the rosters, depth is likely the goal in both cases.

For the Leafs, is this finally the year they learn all those lessons, get over the hump and make a long playoff run? The window appears to be closing, so there is a sense of urgency around Scotiabank Arena.

On paper, the Maple Leafs look like the better team, but the games are not played on paper. The Lightning have the better goalie, more experience, and better coaching. Stay tuned!

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images


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