I’m not saying that the Toronto Maple Leafs will win the Stanley Cup or even this playoff series against the reigning Stanley Cup playoff Tampa Bay Lightning. However, I don’t think any team in the NHL could have beaten the Maple Leafs last night. They were that on their game.
The team was spurred by the adversity of the five-minute major penalty that they had to kill off early in the first period; and, after a slow start to the game, they simply took over. It was hard to know which team was actually on the penalty kill and which team had the man advantage.
In short, it was an amazing game for a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004. As I noted, the Maple Leafs were clearly the superior team – for this one night anyway.
Takeaway One: Kyle Clifford’s Penalty Got the Team Going
It might be odd to say, but the team might owe the game to Kyle Clifford’s “stupid” penalty during the first period. It put his team behind the eight-ball early in the game; however, the team’s collective effort on that penalty simply spurred them forward. You could almost start to feel the collective Maple Leafs team thinking. These guys can’t beat us.
Clifford absolutely deserved the penalty. He totally deserves the ejection. However, he gave the team something to rally around; and, they did. They intercepted passes; created more offensive chances than the Lightning; and, gained momentum. It was as dominant effort as I’ve seen in the postseason.
Takeaway Two: Auston Matthews Doubles His Playoff Scoring
Auston Matthews scored two goals (and even added an assist) in the 5-0 win. That was one more goal than he scored the entire postseason of 2021. He scored on a beautifully drawn-up play by assistant coach Spencer Carbery during a two-man advantage.
He then beat every Lightning player to a clearing pass off the backboard from T.J. Brodie that simply was hustle. Finally, he logged an assist on a great goal by Mitch Marner that made the score 4-0.
In short, it was Matthews being his goal-scoring self after a postseason of poverty during 2021-22. He played his 200-foot game very well indeed. Does he have an entire series of games like this one in him? If he does, this team might win this opening round of the playoffs.
Takeaway Three: And the Fans Wanted Mitch Marner Traded After Last Season?
With Matthews scoring two goals and adding an assist, Mitch Marner did the mirror opposite. He picked up two assists and scored a goal in last night’s 5-0 Game 1 win. During the exit interviews from last postseason, Matthews was asked by a media member if the team should trade Marner. Matthews laughed then, and he’s likely still laughing.
Marner had gone 18 postseason games without scoring a goal. He made up for that with an amazingly calm and patient goal to make the game 4-0. His best play of the game – other than the beautiful goal he scored – was hit assist on David Kampf’s short-handed breakaway.
For all bis rotten reputation for not being a goal-scorer, Kampf has been able to take advantage of mistakes and turn them into scores. For Marner, he had a great game and scored his first playoff goal in over three years (on April 11, 2019).
The team is rolling – but, as I say, the series is far from over.
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