The Maple Leafs curse is broken!
The Maple Leafs have finally broken their own curse. And they brought down a giant in the first round of the playoffs by eliminating the Tampa Bay Lightning, finalists of the past three years.
Eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, or in the qualifying round in 2020, in the last six springs, the Leafs have stopped this nasty streak by eliminating the Lightning in six games.
John Tavares liberated an entire city by scoring the game-winning goal 4:36 into extra time. The Leafs captain fired a shot that deflected off defender Darren Raddysh's skate to force its way past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Before that overtime, Tavares hadn't gotten a single shot on the net by Vasilevskiy. But we will never tell him about this statistic. It was he who allowed the Maple Leafs to reach the second round.
For the first time in 19 years, since 2004, the team with the maple leaf will therefore play a series in the second round. Matthew Knies, a rookie winger, was only a year old in 2004. That illustrates the length of the wait. Knies also collected an assist on Tavares' winning goal.
“It's a good feeling,” center Auston Matthews said on the ice to Sportsnet after the game. We just pulled a piano off our back. But that's just the first step. »
In Toronto since 2016-17, Matthews experienced the feeling of a series win for the first time. It's the same story for Mitchell Marner. Before this sixth meeting on the ice of Amalie Arena, the two star forwards had never signed a victory in ten attempts in games where elimination was at stake.
< strong>Samsonov does the job
The Lightning sold their skin dearly in this meeting. In the third period, the gang of Jon Cooper dictated the game to finally register on the mark. Steven Stamkos pounced on a return shot from Raddysh to beat Ilya Samsonov.
In terms of penalties, the hosts manhandled their rivals 11 to 4. After 60 minutes, the Lightning had the advantage 31 to 21.
Technically, the Florida team had the wind in their sails to go into overtime. Late in the third period, however, referee T.J. Luxemore turned a blind eye to a high-sticking penalty to T.J. Brodie against Brandon Hagel. As is too often the case, the referees did not dare to award a penalty in the last seconds of an important game.
If this bad decision helped the cause of the Leafs, the visitors also benefited from a goalkeeper at the top of his game. Very rough in the first game, Samsonov offered very good hockey for the other five games.
In this last game against the Lightning, the former Capitals goaltender was smoking with 31 saves. In overtime, he stopped a dangerous shot from winger Michael Eyssimont.
Samsonov had made headlines before the opener of this series by declaring his team to be the best in the NHL. He still has a very long way to go to prove that claim, but he took a step in the right direction by winning his duel against Vasilevskiy and the Lightning.
Matthews hits the mark< /strong>
To win, the Maple Leafs didn't just need a good goaltender. They also needed input from their star players. Matthews scored the first goal in this crucial encounter. The mustachioed center finished the first round with nine points (5 goals, 4 assists) in six games.
Marner also blacked out the scoresheet at a good pace with 11 points (2 goals , 9 assists) in six games.
But another striker weighed heavily in the balance. Acquired from the St. Louis Blues, Ryan O'Reilly played a colossal role for the Leafs. In addition to his seven points, he brought a significant dose of leadership to this team.
Kyle Dubas and Sheldon Keefe now have to breathe a little easier. They reached the second round. But above all, they saved their skin. In the event of another early elimination, there would most likely have been a big sweep in the leading minds of the Maple Leafs.