One game for all the marbles. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning get set to duel it out one more time as their first-round series is going the distance. It’s been a back-and-forth affair to say the least and each game has been so different. Entertaining as hell, Game 7 is setting up to be a hockey game for the ages. Leafs Nation can’t wait to play host to the Lightning on Saturday night, so let’s dive into three Maple Leafs who need to step up and produce.
Like it or not, there’s so much pressure on Jack Campbell to be at his best tonight and that’s just what comes with playing his position. It’s not something he’s not used to as he has been playing hockey almost his entire life, but a Game 7 in Toronto when the Maple Leafs haven’t won a first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series in 18 years? Yes, certainly a new level of pressure and Campbell must be sharp from the get-go.
The Lightning are proven winners and are laced with a winning pedigree. “Soup” has been unbelievable at times and very shaky at others, resulting in a .893 save percentage so far through six games. While the Maple Leafs seem to love to get down by a goal or two early on, Toronto can’t have that in Game 7. Campbell needs to hold off the early push from the Lightning and show his teammates he’s ready, willing and able. No shaky goals where his glove gives him problems, no early markers that swing momentum and ideally nothing late in periods. A tall task to say the least, but something the All-Star is capable of.
In 2021, when the Maple Leafs were eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 by a score of 3-1, Mitch Marner had a horrible game. He looked scared and timid at times and it seemed like the pressure of the moment was too much to handle. These Stanley Cup Playoffs it’s been a totally different tune from Marner, and he’s taken his game to new heights with his postseason performance.
While his offensive production is elite, Marner is an underrated two-way player who needs to be sharp defensively tonight against the pesky Lightning. Last time around, against the Canadiens in Game 7, the Leafs winger had zero takeaways, zero blocked shots, and was a minus-1 rating. A game to forget, indeed, and on Saturday night the Maple Leafs need Marner to be at his absolute best. Another stinker and things could go south in a hurry, but honestly, it doesn’t feel like that’s coming from the shifty winger. He’s shown throughout this season, and this series, the former first-round pick has taken his game to new heights and has developed into a game-changer, even at the game’s toughest moments.
The Maple Leafs captain signed a massive contract to “come home” and now is the time to step up and prove to Leafs Nation why management gave him his huge deal. Last postseason was a scary one for John Tavares as the collision with Canadiens forward Corey Perry was hard to watch. How sweet would it be for Tavares to shake hands with Perry on Saturday night after the Maple Leafs eliminate the Lightning, the team Perry jumped ship for after being eliminated in 2021.
So far during the 2021-22 Stanley Cup Playoffs Tavares has been everything as advertised, recording six points in six games. This will need to continue during Game 7 as expectations will be mounting on the captain’s shoulders. When you make $11 million per season, these are the moments his team needs him the most. Game 7’s are where your best players need to be your best players. So far this series, that’s been the case for Toronto and if it continues on Saturday night, they have a legit chance at upsetting the back-to-back Stanley Cup champs.
Buckle up, hockey fans, we’re in for a treat. Game 7 in Toronto on a Saturday night as the Maple Leafs look to do something they haven’t done since Joe Nieuwendyk scored a couple of soft goals on Ottawa Senators goalie Patrick Lalime in 2004. Yes, as I’m sure you’ve heard recently, it’s been 18 years since the Maple Leafs won a first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series. If Campbell, Tavares and Marner have strong games, the Lightning will be in big trouble.
Shane covers any and everything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor to the THW family, his passion and unique perspective on the game results in some diverse content. Certainly versatile, you can also find him contributing at NHLTradeRumors.me, BaseballRumors.me & BBallRumors.com. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween