Maple Leafs vs. Lightning: 3 Things to Know about First Round series

The 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs began on Monday, May 2. Today, we preview the series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning

Maple Leafs vs. Lightning schedule

Game 1: May 2, 7:30 p.m. ET – Lightning at Maple Leafs (Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports, ESPN2)
Game 2: May 4, 7:30 p.m. ET – Lightning at Maple Leafs (Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports, ESPN2)
Game 3: May 6, 7:30 p.m. ET –  Maple Leafs at Lightning (TBS, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports)
Game 4: May 8, 7 p.m. ET – Maple Leafs at Lightning (TBS, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 5: May 10, TBD – Lightning at Maple Leafs (TBD)
*Game 6: May 12, TBD – Maple Leafs at Lightning (TBD)
*Game 7: May 14, TBD – Lightning at Maple Leafs (TBD)

1. All of the pressure is on Toronto

Talk about two teams with two very different track records over the past seven years. Since the start of the 2014-15 season Tampa Bay has won a league best 70 playoff games (28 more than the next closest team during that stretch), reached at least the Conference Finals in five of the seven seasons, played in three Stanley Cup Finals, and won the past two Stanley Cups. They are a dominant, dominant team.

Toronto? Well, the Maple Leafs have lost in the First Round in each of the past five years despite a big-money, big-talent core while the organization has not won a playoff series of any kind since the 2003-04 playoffs. Before the salary cap era even began.

It is pretty obvious which team has the most pressure here, and it is one million percent the Maple Leafs.

If Tampa Bay loses it might be a disappointment for fans to see their quest for a three-peat come to an end, but they have earned a leash and will get the “well it is tough to win three years in a row” benefit of the doubt.

If Toronto loses in the First Round with this core for a sixth consecutive year the city is going to have a meltdown and you have to expect significant changes to come somewhere in the organization. After all, it is not like Toronto has been losing to heavy favorites lately. Two years ago they lost to a Columbus team that had the 14th best points percentage in the league in a play-in series, and last year they lost to a Montreal team that was fourth place in the All-Canada division and then came back this season with the worst record in the league. They lose as favorites, they lose as underdogs. They just have to win. If they do not, nobody is going to care about their regular season win total (which set a franchise record), or Auston Matthews scoring 60 goals (also a franchise record) and winning a second straight Rocket Richard Award, or Mitch Marner‘s point total. It is time to win. Right now.

2. Did Tampa Bay do enough to replace its scoring depth?

There are a lot of reasons Tampa Bay won the past two Stanley Cups, and its depth beyond its top scorers is one of the biggest. But this past offseason salary cap issues forced them to trade Tyler Johnson and say goodbye to their dominant third line of Blake Coleman (Calgary), Yanni Gourde (Seattle), and Barclay Goodrow (New York Rangers).

Tampa Bay has replaced that collection of forwards internally (Ross Colton), through free agency (Corey Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) and at the trade deadline (Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul).

So how do they compare?

Let’s compare two sets of numbers on how the Lightning have performed during 5-on-5 play without their big three forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Brayden Point) on the ice.

During the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons (when Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup both years) they outscored teams by a 145-125 margin (53 percent goal share), and had a better than 52 percent share of total shot attempts, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances, and expected goals.

In other words, when their big three were not on the ice they still outplayed and outscored their opponents,

This season? Their goal share has actually improved in those situations (71-60; a 54 percent share), while their shot attempt, scoring chance, and expected goal shares are all nearly identical. Meaning their depth is still excellent even if the new players may not be quite as good (or seem quite as good) as the players that left.

After a slump late in the season the Lightning seemingly flipped the switch late over the past week or two to close the regular season.

3. Tampa Bay has the goalie advantage in a big way (on paper anyway)

This is going to be the X-factor matchup in the series because, well, goaltending always is.

On the Tampa Bay side we have Andrei Vasilevskiy, the best goalie on the planet and a total game-changer when he is at his best. When he is at his best it makes the Lightning almost unbeatable behind this collection of talent at forward and defense. His numbers this season have not been as strong as they typically are, but everybody knows what he is capable of.

The big question is going to be whether or not he runs out of steam. He has played a lot of hockey the past few years and literally played every minute of the past two playoff runs for the Lightning.

On the Toronto side we have Jack Campbell, a total mystery right now whose season has been a roller coaster of ups and downs. He started off great, was awful for three months in the middle of the season and then missed time with an injury, and then started to play better down the stretch going into the playoffs.

On paper this is a big advantage for Tampa Bay, but if Toronto gets the early season version of Campbell (and the version that is entering the playoffs on a 7-0-2 run over his past nine appearances) that gap could close a little bit.

Prediction: Lightning win in six games

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    Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

    That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there Friday night.

    Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

    Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

    It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

    Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

    And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

    Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

    WELCOME HOME, LU

    Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

    In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

    He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

    Luongo was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

    “You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

    Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

    Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design paid tribute to his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks.

    He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night.

    REMEMBERING JIMMY

    Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

    Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

    Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

    Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

    ANTHEM POISE

    “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

    Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

    And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

    SLAP SHOTS

    Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.