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Maple Leafs get blown out by desperate defending champion Lightning in penalty-filled affair

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Photo credit:Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
9 months ago
TAMPA — One hundred and fourteen minutes.
That’s how many penalty minutes were officially handed at the end of the night as the Toronto Maple Leafs endured their most lopsided defeat of the season, 8-1 to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions on Thursday.
With second place virtually secured in the Atlantic Division, there was certainly more at stake for the Lightning going into the game. Sitting one point ahead of the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division, the Lightning were able to further separate themselves after the Bruins were blanked by the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-0 earlier in the night.
“All night it felt like they were the more desperate team,” Maple Leafs defenceman Mark Giordano said. “They played a hard game and did a lot of things right, but we didn’t get to our game at all.”
Both teams went into the first period tied 0-0 and although Toronto had a 14-7 edge in shots on goal but it was the Lightning who had the better scoring chances, including several 2-on-1 opportunities and superiors expected goals percentage of 57, per NaturalStatTrick.com.
That level of play from Tampa set the tone for the remainder of the evening.
The Lightning lit up the Leafs for four goals in the second period, including one from Steven Stamkos as the Markham, Ont. native became the Lightning franchise leader in points.
The middle frame is also where the penalty minutes flowed.
While there are too many list, there are some notable ones that should get the NHL’s attention.
Kyle Clifford received a match penalty when he took the butt end of his stick and bonked Lightning forward Corey Perry in the head. That comes with an automatic suspension pending a review. Another issue could be Wayne Simmonds’ charge on Mikhael Sergachev in the third period. However, it did seem like he managed to keep one skate on the ice.
But the game ended as expected in a blowout scenario. The game had long been decided in Tampa’s favour, it was more about taking receipts for what could be a potential first-round series matchup.
“We can definitely learn from it,” Giordano said. “From our end, it stings and it should shouldn’t feel too good for anyone. But if we meet them in playoffs, it starts clean slate from Game 1 and you go from there.”
It would be easy to say the Leafs were embarrassed in this game given the score. But really, what was this game for Toronto compared to Tampa?
With the No. 2 seed all but locked up, the Maple Leafs are really in self-preservation mode. Their top star, Auston Matthews missed the game and the last two before it with a very minor injury. An ailment that if needed, he could play through, but the Leafs don’t really need to put him at that kind of risk.
Tampa, on the other hand, had been struggling heading into this contest. They were 3-4-2 in their last nine games and allowed the Bruins to creep into that final divisional playoffs spot. They had a lot to prove and it showed.
“You just get a sample of how hard you need to play and how well you need to play to be able of that quality when they’re playing at that level,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said after the game.
The reality of the situation is the Leafs were due for a reality check. They aren’t perfect and no team in the NHL is. While Keefe strives to perfection, it’s hard to make the case that looking like world beaters against the top team down the stretch going into the playoffs will automatically turn into playoffs success.
It just doesn’t work that way.
Before Thursday’s game, they won four consecutive games. They haven’t dropped back-to-back games since losses to the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres on Mar. 10 and 13.
A lot of receipts were collected in the parade to the penalty box. A lot of messages sent. But this was’t your typical embarrassing 8-1 loss. If the Leafs had looked like they had the urgency to to come back into this game and couldn’t do it, that would sound the alarm.
But they know where they’re going. And there’s no need to put themselves in harms way.
It’s on to the next one against the Florida Panthers and just four games remaining in the regular season until it all becomes real.
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