It’s almost always futile to look for “signs” or “omen” during a hockey game. The next blow to someone’s ass doesn’t really care what happened before, and apparently, this season, will not next call refer missed but still managed to leave Your D– disabled man, and the opponent forwards an open path to your grid.
But that hasn’t stopped fans, especially the tortured (if only in their minds), from looking for anything that might indicate a change of fortune. If you are a is a maple tree fans, you will drink any sand in the desert. And yesterday’s comeback win over Lightning that gave Leaf a 2-1 lead in the series was a particularly tasty bit of sand.
Make no mistake, the Cards played badly for most of Game 3’s 79 minutes. They were completely overtaken by Lightning, trying to outshine and not having a chance. Ilya Samsonov got into the net very well and it looks like he’s trying to make three saves at once. They treated the ball as if it were an active rodent, and their slow (and increasingly slower) defense was overwhelmed by Lightning most of the time.
The numbers are ugly. At even strength, Lightning has 65% attempts. They had 64.5% of the expected goals. They have a 63% chance to score. In Games 1 and 3, Lightning satisfied the Maple Leafs’ need for their striker to do everything. Unlike yesterday’s hero Morgan Rielly, the Leafs’ defensive corps couldn’t give themselves enough time to complete a pass, much less engage in any rush or possession attacks. The Leaves depend on their striker to carry the ball from 170 feet or more to the ice. Especially yesterday, that played right into Tampa’s suffocating 1-1-3 defensive scheme.
They shouldn’t be leading, but they are
And yet… The Leafs lead the series. They found a way, which is not a sentence that people have ever written about Leaf, at least not in a Positive fashion. Their star players just pulled them out of there. Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews made a shift and wreak havoc in the Lightning area, and the former eventually found the latter to score them giving them a 2-1 lead in the possible first game, and should have stayed away from them. Ryan O’Reilly finished the match with less than a minute left. And Rielly, the Leaf’s only green player, doesn’t look like he’s skating through toxic waste, floating in the winner overtime.
Those four players also happen to be Toronto’s top scorers in the first three games, where the Lightning has been more closely matched by players with their depth like Cory Perry or Anthony Cirelli. Tampa can take his heart from there because their stars will probably come into play at some point, but they’re also starting to run a little short of time. They could also hear that in the two games Victor Hedman played, they had mostly flipped the third Outer Card in Game 1 which had been decided. The Leafs has no such player in the background who just helps smooth things out.
And yet… they lead 2-1. Yes, they were here just last year. They even took a 3-2 lead last year and had to go into extra time with a chance to close the game. They did not. Back then, they had Andrei Vasilevskiy looking a little shaken, just like now. But this Lightning team, with their superior distance plus another deep run from last spring, may not be able to pull off as many outstanding performances as they once did. It just wastes one of them.
Joining the band Leaves is never a good idea. It smells and has a brackish clientele. But it’s still rolling, which, after yesterday, is a new trick.