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Leafs looking to put a stranglehold on the series

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Photo credit:Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
6 months ago
If history has taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t start feeling confident about how the Leafs are doing in the playoffs. Ever. I think if the Leafs do win the Cup, it’s going to be post parade, banner raising, and names on the cup before it will feel like it’s finally over.
Still, having a three game lead on the series would feel a lot better than a tied series. Especially if the Leafs would then have two opportunities to close it out at home, that would be a nice little situation to find ourselves in. Maybe it’s too greedy to expect Toronto to take two games in Tampa, but if Jack Campbell continues to do November Jack Campbell things, it doesn’t hurt to believe a little.
At 5v5, the Leafs haven’t been the dominant team, but the good news for the Leafs is that this series isn’t being won at 5v5. Penalties are being called, and as long as the Leafs are modestly disciplined in comparison to the slow-moving buffoonery of players like Maroon, Bogosian, Killorn, and Perry, the Leafs can cost by on the powerplay and trust that with limited shorthanded opportunities, things won’t get out of control and their power kill can keep Tampa honest.
Signs are pointing to the Leafs acknowledging some things aren’t working at 5v5 and trying some new ideas up front. The fully buzzing Alex Kerfoot has earned some top line reps. Reuniting the optimal shutdown line of Mikheyev-Kampf-Engvall is a great way to get things back under control, and the way all three of those players are going, that could be the Leafs’ de facto top line at the moment. What a nice luxury. Where it gets interesting is with Bunting-Blackwell-Spezza. The intent here seems to be to take Bunting out of his offensive capacity on the top line and give him a chance to be a superpest and draw some penalties with Blackwell. I’m all for these experiments because it’s easy enough to go back.
As for the defensive unit, well…we like Sandin, we like Liljegren, but sticking with what won makes some sense. Personally, I’d reunite Rielly and Brodie, but Campbell’s strong play in net is keeping the Leafs from having to tinker.
LWCRW

ONDREJ PALAT

STEVEN STAMKOS

NIKITA KUCHEROV

ALEX KILLORN

ANTHONY CIRELLI

BRAYDEN POINT

BRANDON HAGEL

NICK PAUL

ROSS COLTON

PATRICK MAROON

PIERRE-ÉDOUARD BELLEMARE

COREY PERRY
When it comes to the LIghtning forward lines it’s all about finding the pairing they want against the Stamkos line, and so far our eyes and the numbers say it’s not Rielly-Lyubushkin. Kucherov has been playing like he’s one of the top players in the world (he is) and Stamkos still has a lot more to give as well. There needs to be some acknowledgment that TJ Brodie is the Leafs’ best defensive zone player and glue him to that line as much as he can be. Putting Rielly-Lyubushkin against Point, and having Giordano-Holl play against the bottom six are probably the ideal matchups.
DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS

VICTOR HEDMAN

ERIK CERNAK

RYAN MCDONAGH

ZACH BOGOSIAN

MIKHAIL SERGACHEV

CAL FOOTE
There’s no doubt that these are solid pairings, and Toronto is going to be playing against a good defenseman, so splitting up Marner and Matthews might be the best way to ensure that Hedman can only help shut down one of them. I’m also very much in favour of trying to jump start John Tavares.
When it comes to what’s happening in goal, the Leafs very much seem to be fine with Vasilevskiy at this point. Jon Cooper seems to think the LIghtning are doing just fine with Jack Campbell as well. Cool. It’s been to the Leafs’ benefit that this series has been as open as it has been and defensive hockey exists in small doses.
The NHL is treating Mom to an early start, and Game 4 will start at 7 pm ET. Of course, it can be seen on CBC and every Sportsnet channel (other than West will at some point cut to Oilers .)
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