31
Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Leafs Postgame: X-pected better

After a lopsided loss to the Capitals, Toronto was back in action at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning with a chance to clinch a playoff spot.

To say that this was an important game would be an understatement. Toronto wins, and they’re in. Toronto loses, and Tampa’s got some life, with thoughts of a collapse creeping into the Leafs’ dressing room. Unfortunately, the latter is what came to be. Here’s how Toronto’s 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning played out.

THE RUNDOWN

The first period wasn’t Toronto’s best stretch of hockey. The Buds came out strong with a few shifts of sustained pressure in Tampa’s zone. From that point on, though, the ice was definitely tilted in the Lightning’s favour. Both sides traded some decent chances, but nothing great from either team.

Things were progressing (relatively) smoothly until…

Yes, that’s the same Jake Dotchin that injured Kasperi Kapanen for a significant amount of time earlier this season in the AHL. If you didn’t catch the game, don’t worry – Matthews was fine and actually looked extra motivated from that point forward.

The second period is where things started to get interesting.

After Roman Polak took an incredibly, incredibly stupid penalty (drink), the Bolts took a 1-0 lead on Brayden Point’s 15h of the season.

However, just over two minutes later, #TheDream, Nazem Kadri tied things up with his 32nd.

I know this narrative is starting to pick up some traction, but there’s definitely a case to be made for Kadri as Toronto’s MVP. Yeah, Matthews and Andersen are probably slightly ahead but come on – Kadri’s tied for second in team scoring, has 32 goals, and is playing legitimately good defense. He’s been great.

While that goal tempered some nerves, the tranquility didn’t last long. Nikita Kucherov did this just a few minutes later. Holy hell.

Yes, that goal was un-freakin-believable, but part of me believes that Andersen has to come up with the save. Either way, that was Kucherov’s 39th of the season, which is great for him. Tampa’s nowhere near a playoff spot without his unbelievable play this year. Anyways, Tampa led 2-1 heading into the third.

Exactly two minutes into the final frame, Michael Bournival, yes, I’m serious, made it a two-goal game.

This goal came after some horrendous defensive-zone play from Toronto, which is something we saw a few times on Thursday night.

That was pretty much the dagger, and you could that after the goal, Toronto just didn’t have it from that point forward. The crowd tried to get back into it a few times but, essentially, that marked the end of the game.

Brayden Point added his second of the game late, which capped off an incredibly disappointing outing from Toronto’s perspective.

THE STATS

Toronto had a decent night possession-wise, but as you can see, they went through a number of stretches where they just couldn’t generate any kind of offense. This is most evident when they needed it most, when they went M.I.A all throughout the third period.

Individually, here’s how Toronto’s players performed:

Really, no one stood out. Hunwick had a decent game, and the fourth line looked pretty good when they played. Ultimately, this is a group that needs to regroup, and fast.

BLUE WARRIOR

I’m not really sure of who award tonight’s Blue Warrior. Anderden made a few fantastic saves but ultimately, you’d like him to have that second goal back. Kadri had a good game as well, but his line disappeared at times. Matthews looked fantastic early on, but he, Nylander, and Hyman were effectively taken out of the game by a stellar Tampa gameplan.

I’ll give it to Kasperi Kapanen because I thought he had a good game, and should have been put on Matthews’ wing when they went down 3-1.

UP NEXT

Toronto’s next game is Saturday night, when the Pittsburgh Penguins come to town. Toronto’s one saving grace is that Pittsburgh has every incentive to rest their top players, as they’ve already got second in the Metropolitan division locked down. Still, Toronto will be in tough, and they have to come away with a win. Tampa and the Isles are too hot, and Toronto can’t count on them losing – they’ve got to close it out themselves.

Tampa and the Isles are too hot, and Toronto can’t count on them losing – they’ve got to close it out themselves.

  • Drapes55

    Leafs got a dose of Playoff hockey tonight right down to the officiating and well, the Leafs sucked. After the hit on Matthews, the Leafs seemed to lose any sense of urgency and it appeared like they just gave up and hoped Tampa was gonna give them the game. As a long time fan, I can stand losing a game, I’ve gotten used to it. I just can’t stand watching a team this talented just not try. If there is anything I want from this team to learn it’s that you have to play every game with 110% effort. Tampa has I think it was 6 guys who played 50+ games in the AHL on they’re team right now. The Leafs have one guy who has more AHL games this year than NHL games and he was their best player tonight by far. The Leafs don’t deserve to be in the playoffs if this is the type of effort were going to see from them. Michael Jordan said it best “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

  • jimithy

    Remember? This a hockey game between two hockey teams. One is strong and determined, the other coddled and badly coached. Who’s going to win?
    Don’t be distracted by the inane commentators ploy to detract from the game. The Leafs are too slow soft and small, in that order.

    • Gary Empey

      As usual Jeff doesn’t have a clue. He wants to get rid of the couple of physical players we have and replace them with highly skilled, stick-checking, more offensive guys. I doubt the Leaf brain-trust will go that way. If they did we would have zero chance to make the playoffs next year. Our problem is not scoring goals. It is stopping goals scored against us.

  • BarelyComments

    Probably one of the more disappointing games of the season just from a work ethic stand point (especially that third period), they were out skated by a roster compromised 50% of AHL players. Lots of talk on the broadcast about how the Leafs couldn’t get their forecheck going but no mention of the reason for that which seemed to be that Tampa was running some serious interference/picks all night long (both subtle and blatant, i.e. Dotchin on Matthews). Honestly i’d like to see more of those called, as its just watered down clutch and grab hockey but I guess if its effective and the refs don’t call it you gotta give Cooper props. Also, I don’t like to pick on Marner but it seems as though he’s forgotten how to handle a puck lately, maybe its nerves or sickness but he’s got to be better. Kapanen was our most passionate player by far tonight (despite only being on the roster for a couple games), he continues to step up in big games and should get a bump up the line up even though the chances of that happening are slim to none.

    • Gary Empey

      That check on Matthews was designed to end Auston’s season. Dotchin is the guy who knocked Kapenin out a Marlie’s game and nearly the season . Dotchin also sucker punched Nielson in a scrum. It is no wonder Brad Marchand gave him one in the goulies.

      • jimithy

        Polak was the only Leaf who didn’t play like a cupcake. Nylander, Kadri, Marner and the Waffle 5 were acting as if they were the icing on the ice. Get your cupcakes fresh every game. We’ve been serving cupcakes since 1967.

      • Drapes55

        I disagree that the check had malicious intent. Yes he most definitely interfered with Matthews and I believe he should have been penalized for it but he didn’t stick out his knee and purposely try to injure Matthews. It was an unfortunate hit which could have been prevented by the refs calling the interference much closer earlier on in the game. Dotchin is a pest, he didn’t purposely try to hurt Kapanen the same as he didn’t try to hurt Matthews, he tried to play a physical game and unfortunately things happened for the worse. I don’t remember who said it on TSN but they hit the nail on the head. If you want to get him back dump the puck in his corner and continually punish him with hits every shift. But the Leafs insisted on trying to carry the puck in and continually lost it at the blue line. There are ways to get even in hockey without dropping the gloves but Toronto just seemed content tonight to bang they’re head against a cement wall hoping that they would eventually break through

    • Stan Smith

      Usually I would be in favor of a team standing up for themselves, but the Leafs have too many small skilled players to do that. I think what they need to do is turn the other cheek, and not try and dish back. If I was Leafs management I would be sending vids to the NHL showing all the cross-checking, hacking, slashing, and hits away from the puck that weren’t called, and strongly suggesting that they call the rulebook. Then you make the other team pay with power plays. Matthews, Marner and Nylander have to have numerous bruises from their treatment the past two games.

    • The Russian Rocket

      I think that was part of the plan for sure but the Leafs didn’t just turtle. Martin fought Couburn for pushing Matthews into the net (good pick by Martin not to try to fight Dotchin for the knee because he would have turtled for sure). Kadri, Uncle Leo, and Polak were also throwing the body – I even saw Nylander lay a good hit on their defense in the offensive zone corner which was beautiful. I really think the reason the Bolts won was i) they were relentless with their stick checking ii) Victor Hedman is looking like one of the Top 3 defencemen in the league, shutting down everything.

  • FlareKnight

    That…was kind of painful.

    You knew it’d be tough against a team desperate like Tampa. But, really hoped it’d be a closer game. Now the pressure ramps up into a must win situation.

  • Glen

    Very very disappointing, starting to get that familiar sinking feeling so familiar to Leaf fans. We have all been here so many times. Hopefully the team can split the final two games. GLG

    • Gary Empey

      As LukeWarmWater predicted it is very likely Pittsburgh and Columbus as they coast into the playoffs, will rest some regulars when we play them. This could be helpful. Still both of them are good teams and not to be underestimated. If Islanders or the Lightening lose one of their last two games they are done.

    • FlareKnight

      It’s hard to be chipper after that one.

      The one benefit for the Leafs is that there are several ways things could still turn out alright. Tampa and the Islanders could screw it up. It could happen. The Pens and Columbus may rest guys and may be looking past Toronto to their playoff series. Though still really good teams, but maybe if the Leafs play better than they did against Tampa that would be enough.

      But…that sinking feeling could play out. That despite all the changes to the roster…being “the Leafs” still ends up like this. You truly hope that isn’t the case though.

      • jimithy

        The Pens and the Jackets could dress their players wives and beat the Maple Cupcakes. The Cupcakes are treated like the second coming in Toronto regardless of their ineptitude. This fawning reverence has made this mess. It’s time the zombie followers of this team look in the mirror. It won’t be pretty, but it might help them see how they’ve been groomed by the fake Toronto Maple Cupcake propaganda. Save yourselves. Better hockey organizations are a dime a dozen. If you don’t have a mirror, borrow, buy or steal one.

  • The Russian Rocket

    I hated that game but I have to give some props to Tampa Bay. They looked like the team that played Chicago in the Cup final a couple years ago. They were more physical but more than anything their stick checks and defensive zone play were relentless. It felt like Hedman and Stralman were just shutting them down EVERY time they crossed the blue line.

  • Stan Smith

    The Caps and the Lightning both used the same M.O. to beat the leafs. Simply pound them into the ice. It got them off their game on both nights. They spent more time trying to fight back then they did playing their game. Once the refs see both teams trying to dish it out he puts the whistle away and let’s them Duke it out, and the leafs simply don’t have the players to do so. What they need to do is not fight back. Once the refs see the rough stuff is one sided, hopefully they will start calling the penalties and you make the other team pay by scoring on the power play. Tampa had their backs to the wall, had a game plan, and executed it perfectly. The leafs have yet to play an absolutely have to win game. I think that comes tomorrow night. Here’s hoping they come through.

    • jimithy

      You’re right. The Leafs don’t like it when they get pounded and smeared into the boards every shift. They’d prefer to play a game where every one just gets along. Also, they’re getting beat to the puck all the time and the other teams seem to be playing with them like a toy. Lay the body on these guys and they fold. Sad to see. Shanahan bringing in Lamoriello as father figure was a very bad selfish idea. And what happened with all that Dubas’ mind numbing number crunching solutions?

  • Himynameistaylor

    Matthew’s will leave before his ELC is up to go play in Arizona after this poor season. Can’t imagine any star player okay with such mediocrity.

    • Stan Smith

      What “poor” season? The Leafs have improved 24 pts over last season, and have exceeded everyones expectations. Oh wait, you are talking about Arizona’s poor season. They have 1 more point than the Leafs did last season.