It’s time to exorcise some demons: Leafs Tailgate
Photo credit:Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
By Nick Alberga6 months ago
Alrighty —let’s try this again.
With a win tonight at Amalie Arena in Game 6, the Leafs can advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004.
For the past 48 hours, the city of Toronto has been on pins and needles following another disastrous closeout attempt in Game 5 on Thursday night. Mikey Eyssimont notched a goal and an assist as Tampa staved off elimination with a 4-2 victory at Scotiabank Arena.
That said, lost in the shuffle is the fact that the Maple Leafs are still in the driver’s seat up 3-2 in the series.
Meantime, after sitting out the past four games (3-game suspension + 1 healthy scratch, it’s expected Michael Bunting will make his highly anticipated return to the Leafs lineup.
More changes could be coming, too.
TIME: 7 ET (CBC, Sportsnet)
TOR Ilya Samsonov – CONFIRMED (3-2, 3.62, 0.886)
TBL Andrei Vasilevskiy – CONFIRMED (2-3, 3.90, 0.870)
3 KEYS TO VICTORY:
PLAY SMARTER, NOT HARDER
From a puck management standpoint, Game 5 is as bad as I’ve seen the Leafs look in quite some time. It was a potential series-clinching game —that’s all you need to know. At any rate, if Toronto has any shot of finally exorcising their demons and finishing off Tampa, it’s paramount that they’re smarter with the puck. That means limiting turnovers and pizzas; just can’t have it. As the Lightning have proved time and time again, you make a mistake, more times than not, the puck’s going to end up in the back of your net. Furthermore, it would be great to see the Leafs play with pace, urgency, and killer instinct. As we’re all aware by now, this group has a tendency of playing timid and scared late in the series. It’s time to finally do the damn thing!
MAKE LIFE DIFFICULT FOR VASILEVSKIY
Defensively, I thought Tampa did a tremendous job of clogging the lanes in Game 5. Remember all that talk about Andrei Vasilevskiy struggling with long shots? Well, Toronto didn’t have many of those on Thursday night, and I’m sure Jon Cooper’s game plan had a lot to do with that. In general, Tampa did a good job with the traffic in front of their star netminder. In addition to that, the real Andrei Vasilevskiy was bound to show up at some point. Unsurprisingly, he offered up his best outing (29 saves) of the series to-date. This isn’t a respect thing, either. The Leafs know damn well who they’re facing and what his numbers are late in series. That said, they’ve scored on him a lot over the past few seasons. In essence, he’s beatable..very beatable. Ultimately, they just have to persevere and push through that mental block. That’s easier said than done, of course.
NEED A FEW SAVES
All in all, despite the pedestrian numbers, I don’t think Ilya Samsonov has been that bad in the series. Having said that, there’s a couple I’m sure he wasn’t crazy about letting up. Moving forward, his play – good or bad – will go a long way in determining if the Leafs are finally going to get the job done here. Long story short, the 26-year-old needs to step up. It goes without saying but he can’t have anymore of those Mikey Eyssimont type shots go in, especially with you know who at the other end of the ice. For my money, Samsonov is the key to this all. Manifesting a monster Game 6 performance —this team needs it in a big way.
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