Left for dead, top Maple Leafs stars push Lightning to brink

After an ugly Game 4 loss, the Maple Leafs looked listless down 2-0 in Game 5 to the Lightning. Such ugly optics inspired plenty of people to pile on a franchise doomed by First Round finishes.

Perhaps the Maple Leafs’ gutsy, messy, exciting Game 5 win over the Lightning should be a reminder of how wildly playoff series (and games) can swing? Could it be evidence that people sometimes overreact a bit?

Either way, the Maple Leafs fought back from down 2-0, muscled through a nail-biting finish, and pushed the Lightning to the brink of elimination in a Game 5 thriller. The Maple Leafs now lead that series 3-2.

Star Maple Leafs players drive a blistering Game 5 rally vs. Lightning

Following a poor showing in Game 4, the knives were out for top Toronto talents.

  • People really made a lot out of William Nylander not going hard after a puck.

  • In two home games to start the series, Auston Matthews generated two goals and three assists for five points. When the series switched to Tampa Bay, Matthews cooled off, failing to score a goal and notching a single assist. The story was similar for Mitch Marner.
  • Do you prefer blaming depth players instead? People had plenty of awkward questions about “worst defensemen.”

So, when the Lightning took a 2-0 lead just 6:11 into Game 5 (with goals less than a minute apart), people were already giving up on the Maple Leafs. Either that, or figuring out who to trade or fire.

To be fair, it was a very bad start.

But the immediacy of social media and the ebbs and flows of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs can prompt some big leaps.

After being outshot 14-4 in a penalty-filled first period, the Maple Leafs flipped that in the second (14-9). That middle frame also began a run of scapegoats gaining redemption, as John Tavares scored a crucial power-play goal, assisted by Nylander and Mark Giordano.

Twists and turns in the third

As usual with the Maple Leafs, the third period of Game 5 provided enough drama for a (violent) soap opera.

Nylander and Tavares continued to turn the volume down from critics, setting up Morgan Rielly for a pretty goal. Less than a minute-and-half later, William Nylander absolutely hammered a goal home.

Just like that, the Maple Leafs gained a 3-2 lead over the Lightning 4:11 into the third period of Game 5.

Of course, it could never be that simple for tormented Toronto.

About four minutes later, Ryan McDonagh pounced on a loose puck, absolutely slamming it home for a 3-3 tie. Forgive anyone who had a “here we go again” feeling.

Instead, two favorite targets came through. In a brilliant play, Mitch Marner elected to shoot for a rebound, and Auston Matthews made no mistake about it for the 4-3 goal.

This time, the lead stuck. The Maple Leafs won Game 5 by a score of 4-3, taking a 3-2 series lead over the Lightning. Not bad for a team left for dead.

Rare circumstances for Tampa Bay

All of the Maple Leafs angst allowed something to slip under the radar. Simply put, the Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t faced elimination very often lately.

During last season’s repeat run, the Lightning faced elimination once: an eventual Game 7 win against the Islanders. Other than that, they won one series in six games, and two others in five. In that first Stanley Cup win in 2019-20, the Lightning never once faced elimination.

This is a Bolts team that’s known for bouncing back from defeat. They also have been pretty efficient in keeping opponents from getting too pesky.

If the Lightning beat the Maple Leafs, people won’t focus on how rare it is for Tampa Bay to be this threatened, this early. But few teams have been able to push them like this, even if it hasn’t always been pretty.

Frankly, if you’re a fan of the Maple Leafs or even merely the sport, Game 5 was pretty beautiful.

Scroll Down For: