Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 4-3 in overtime. The series is now tied, and the teams head back to Toronto for the deciding Game 7 on Saturday night. It’s probably appropriate.
For us, the bottom line is that these are two extremely evenly-matched teams, and this series could still go either way. Sadly, this game was decided by a five-on-three high-sticking penalty, but that’s hockey.
Auston Matthews Seems to Be Willing to Risk – Well – Lots
So, here we go again. For the fifth year in a row, the Maple Leafs will be involved in a one-game, winner-take-all game in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There are a number of ways to look at last night’s 4-3 overtime win by the Lightning in Tampa. In fact, pretty much every media outlet has broken the game down and dissected it in every way possible. We believe Auston Matthews pretty much summed up our feelings up in his post- presser when he stated:
“What’s in the past is in the past, man. I mean we can’t change anything now. It’s about this next game and going out there and with the purpose and details and just competing for 60 minutes or whatever it takes and you know we just got to put our balls on the line and go for it.”
Sure, there are some cliches in there, and we aren’t really sure about the whole “balls on the line” comment. Still, what Matthews says is correct.
This Round-One Series Is Not Over Yet
This series is not over yet. We’re constantly reminded that, as good as the Maple Leafs are, they haven’t really won anything yet. At the same time, to put this situation into the present context, we can also say this season the Maple Leafs haven’t lost anything yet.
Without going into details about Game 6, we can say that there were almost as many positives in Game 6 as there were negatives. We say “almost” because the one big negative is they lost the game.
Looking forward, we have two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference of the NHL going head-to-head in a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That’s great hockey.
Unless either Sheldon Keefe or Jon Copper pulls a move that is totally unexpected, all the chess pieces are on the table. After six gruelling games, neither of these teams hold any surprises for each other. Extending Matthews’ willingness to sacrifice, this is best-on-best, mano-a-mano hockey.
The Maple Leafs and the Lightning Are Evenly Matched
Despite one-sided games, either way, these two teams appear to be about as evenly matched as you can get. Through six games, the Maple Leafs hold an ever-so-slight edge in goals scored at 23-21 and shots-on-net 190-185.
If we use Jack Campbell’s and Andrei Vasilevskiy’s stats as a gauge of how each team has played both offensively and defensively, each goalie has won three games and lost three games. Campbell has a save percentage of 0.893%, and a goals-against-average of 3.33 while Vasilevskiy has a 0.885 save percentage and a 3.37 goals-against-average.
It doesn’t get closer than that.
Time for the Maple Leafs to Kick In the Door of Opportunity
As Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe always says, once the game goes into overtime anything can happen. Although the Maple Leafs dominated most of that overtime, they lost with Auston Matthews on the ice and Mitch Marner without his stick.
We’re thinking that bodes well for this team. Given these two players’ determination and physicality during this season and postseason, you’ve got to know they’re taking this loss personally. That’s good.
As Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Wade “Bum” Phillips noted after his team lost to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots 13-3 in Superbowl LIII (2019), “The first year we knocked on the door. This year we beat on the door. Next year we’re gonna kick the son of a b….. in.”
This is the year for the Maple Leafs’ to do some kicking. The old saying is that streaks are made to be broken. For as discouraged as many Maple Leafs’ fans currently feel, there’s nothing to say Saturday night won’t see the end of two streaks — one for both the Maple Leafs and one for the Lightning.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf