Another Maple Leafs Game 7: See you on the other side

Here we are. We’ve made it. Game Seven between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning.
How are you feeling?
Tonight can either be spent hugging your loved ones and people on the street as the seconds tick down to a Maple Leafs win, or it can end like the last nine elimination games have — in defeat.
The closer we get to puck drop on Saturday night, the larger the nerves get. This game won’t only be watched by Maple Leafs and Lightning fans, but every fan in across the hockey universe. This game is massive.
Every player on the Maple Leafs must be on the top of their game because the Lightning are going to come out just as hard. Tonight will be a tsunami of emotions for everyone — win or lose.
It’s the Maple Leafs’ biggest game in a very long time.
The lines
Both teams will enter Game Seven with the same lineups they had on Thursday night.
If you missed the game, or missed what the lineup looked like, here’s how the Maple Leafs’ lines shape up ahead of Saturday night’s do-or-die game.

#Leafs line rushes during morning skate May 14/22
Bunting-Matthews-Marner Mikheyev-Tavares-KerfootNylander-Kampf-EngvallSpezza-Blackwell-Kase Extra: Clifford, Simmonds, Anderson
Campbell KallgrenMrazek
— David Alter (@dalter) May 14, 2022

If you’re wondering what any of the Maple Leafs had to say prior to Game Seven, it’s all very encouraging. Each of the players and Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe are exc …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

Maple Leafs sign a pair of their top Finnish prospects

We’re a day away from an important Game Seven matchup and Kyle Dubas still has his eyes on the future. That’s not a criticism, that’s him doing the job the way he’s supposed to. And this morning it was announced that Roni Hirvonen and Topi Niemela have been signed to their three year entry level contracts.

We’ve signed forward Roni Hirvonen and defenceman Topi Niemelä to future three-year, entry-level contracts.#LeafsForever
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) May 13, 2022

Here are the contract details from the Leafs release:
The Toronto Maple Leafs announced today that the hockey club has signed forward Roni Hirvonen and defenceman Topi Niemelä to future three-year, entry-level contracts. The average annual value of both contracts is $856,666.
Both players still have one year left of their contracts in the Finnish Liiga, and that basically translates to the players either playing for the Leafs or in Finland. The AHL option is somewhat off the table for the year, but remember that European seasons tend to wrap up before the AHL season, so they could be late season additions to the Marlies.
There are some similarities between the players. Both are 20 years old, both taken in the 2020 draft (Hirvonen in the 2nd round and Niemela in the 3rd), and both have represented Finland on their World Junior team, with Hirvonen serving as their most recent captain and Niemela as an assistant.
A lot has been said of Niemela this year, who was one of the Liiga’s top scoring defensemen and was at a point per game pace or close to it for much of the start of the year. Injuries derailed him a bit, but still had one of the top seasons from a 20 year old in the league’s history.
Hirvonen was certainly a bit more understated, but nevertheless still impressive. He appears to be developing a strong two-way center and could be a solid fit for the middle six of the lineup at some point.
Leafs prospects from Liiga in 2022:

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Author: Jon Steitzer / The Leafs Nation

Maple Leafs have one final chance this year to rewrite their first-round narrative

The Maple Leafs have one game left.
One game to rewrite the narrative. One game to do something they haven’t done in 18 years. One game that if they win, could change the course of this entire franchise.
When the Maple Leafs went up 3-2, Maple Leaf Square erupted. Two goals scored 26 seconds apart — it seemed like it was finally over — the curse was about to be lifted and they were about to slay the dragon that is the first round.
Then came the third period.
Everything mattered in the those final 20 minutes. Every shot block, every save, and every clearing attempt. Toronto had a chance to keep their foot on the gas, while also defending the lead.
Each fan in Maple Leaf Square held their breath every time the Lightning kept the puck in the Maple Leafs’ zone. The stress levels were getting higher and higher with the stakes of this game going up just as much. Fans were looking away from the screen and some even had tears in their eyes from time to time.
Then, one penalty was called after another — the feeling of doubt was starting to kick in. Thoughts in everyone’s minds that this game was likely going to overtime.
9:20 into the third period and …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

Game #5: The Maple Leafs’ most important game of the year goes down tonight

This game, between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs, will dictate the rest of the series.
There has been so much said about the way Toronto and Tampa have been playing — each game hasn’t been very close. It’s came down to who’s had the better start, and whoever does has came out with the win.
The same story after each game, but it could all change on Tuesday night.
Lines heading into Game Five
Here’s how Toronto’s lines will shape up ahead of arguably their most important game of the year.

#Leafs line rushes during morning skate May 10/22
Bunting-Matthews-Marner Mikheyev-Tavares-KerfootNylander-Kampf-EngvallSpezza-Blackwell-Kase Extra: Clifford, Simmonds, Anderson
Campbell (starter)Kallgren
— David Alter (@dalter) May 10, 2022

Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said at the morning skate that he’s re-watched Game Four three times and thought the Mark Giordano and Justin Holl pairing was as good as ever on Sunday. They will remain together for another game.
William Nylander is back on the Maple Leafs’ third line with Pierre Engvall and David Kampf, while Ilya Mikheyev and Alex Kerfoot are reunited with John Tavares. Finally, Ondrej Kase gets moved to the fourth line alongside Jason Spezza and Colin Blackwell.
Splitting up Nylander and Tavares allows for two things: it gives the Maple Leafs more depth throughout the forward lines and it splits up two players who aren’t playing well together at the moment.

Keefe on splitting Tavares and Nylander again for Game 5: “The focus for me is not necessarily having Nylander and Tavares apart as much as it is having Mikheyev + Kerfoot and Engvall + Kampf on two different lines.”
— David Alter (@dalter) May 10, 2022

Keefe also discussed the lack of production from Tavares throughout this series and why …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

Is it time to break up Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner?

Heading into Game 5, the series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning is exactly where many expected it to be: tied 2-2 coming back to Toronto.
There has been plenty to take away from the first four games of the series, but one of the biggest points of interest coming out of the two games in Tampa Bay is the dominance of the Alex Killorn, Brayden Point, and Anthony Cirelli unit. That line, along with the pairing of Victor Hedman and Erik Cernak, were matched against the Maple Leafs top line of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, and quite simply smothered them.
In Game 4, Matthews and Marner generated just one shot attempt against Tampa Bay’s shutdown unit. Despite the Maple Leafs win in Game 3, it was much of the same story, with Matthews and Marner coming in at a sub-30 per cent Corsi-for against Killorn, Point, and Cirelli.
With Toronto’s top line being shut down by Tampa’s matchup line and the Leafs failing to generate much at 5v5 from their second line, that begs the question: Is it time to break up Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner?
We haven’t seen Matthews play with William Nylander or Marner play with John Tavares for any significant amo …

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Author: Kyle Cushman / The Leafs Nation

Game #4 Recap: Lightning overwhelm the Leafs 7-3 to tie the series

After the Leafs took the 2-1 series lead in Game 3 on Friday, they had to know that the Lightning would come back fighting hard in Game 4 last night. Perhaps that fear and anticipation was a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the Lightning wiped the floor with Toronto as they did in Game 2.
When the Lightning got to the early lead, it felt almost like fate. The Leafs were meant to lose this one, badly, to charge them up for Game 5 at home (or so I hope, at least). Here was the first one, a one-time clapper from Steven Stamkos:

Stamkos gets one going fast! #StanleyCup | #GoBolts
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 8, 2022

The misfortune continued from there and, since this is The Leafs Nation, I’ll spare you having to scroll through all of the gifs of the Lightning goals that eventually put them up 5-0, and then 7-3 with the two empy netters.
As the Leafs won Game 3 with just 3 goals past Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning beat Jack Campbell for 5 in the first two periods and their other 2 were on an empty net. Erik Kallgren came into the game in relief of Campbell to re-energize the team, and stopped all 8 shots he faced.
And just like they had in Game 2, the Leafs were able to get a few consolation goals. Meaningless for this game, but a reminder that you can score against this team, and something to carry into the next game. The Leafs again scored 3 on one of the best playoff goalies around in Vasilevskiy, but it wasn’t enough.
Here were the two goals scored by the previously goal-less William Nylander:

William Nylander gets the Leafs
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) May 9, 2022

Another one for Willy!
Nylander and Tavares combine for the @MapleLeafs 2nd of the night
— Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) May 9, 2022

Jake Muzzin got a third one with a beautiful point shot:

Jake Muzzin gets a shot through traffic
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) May 9, 2022

Last night’s loss was a disappointing effort, but it’s part of a …

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Author: Ryan Hobart / The Leafs Nation

Game #3 Recap: Maple Leafs’ depth and Jack Campbell come up big in 5-2 win over the Lightning

If there was any game to remember between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning, it’s this one.
This matchup had everything from hits, goals, power play goals, empty net goals, and even a few massive saves from Jack Campbell. In the end, the Maple Leafs took Game Three 5-2 and now lead the series 2-1. Game Four is on Sunday night.
Before I get started discussing the game, I wanted to take a moment in highlighting what being at Maple Leaf Square has been like. I’ve been there shooting video for The Leafs Nation’s social accounts since Game One and it’s been nuts.
This was after Ilya Mikheyev’s first empty net goal on Friday night.

The serotonin levels right now
— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) May 7, 2022

I’ve been at Maple Leaf Square for plenty of playoff games, but for some reason, Friday night’s game had a vibe that I’ve never felt before. Now, it may be because of COVID and how amazing it was to just be around people again, but like I said, this felt incredibly different to past playoff years.
There was an event called ‘Stars on Ice’ being held inside Scotiabank Arena and as the crowd was filtering out, they were standing outside the doors recording Maple Leaf Sqaure. It felt like I was shooting a movie in all honesty.
Do you remember when people would call the 1920s the ‘roaring 20s’, well you better gear up because we’re going to be experiencing that for the next eight years.
The Gifs
The Maple Leafs began this game like they did for the past two games — hungry to get the game started with a goal of their own.
After Pat Maroon shot the puck out of play, Toro …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

Game #3: Maple Leafs look ahead to tonight with some lineup changes

After a Game Two which saw plenty of penalties and a physical affair, expect something similar in Tampa on Friday night.
There’s plenty to look forward to in this game between the Maple Leafs and Lightning. First is how Toronto performs in the playoffs in the visiting building. If you remember back to last season, the Maple Leafs won the first two games in Montreal, and if they can do that in this series, it would be something incredible.
That though is a massive if, especially against the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper will make no changes to his lineup that defeated Toronto 5-3 on Wednesday night. With that being said, this is what their lineup will look like on Friday night.

#tblightning lines/lineup for Game 2:
— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithTB) May 4, 2022

The Maple Leafs’ key to tonight’s game is to stay out of the penalty box. As for Wayne Simmonds, who took two of Toronto’s seven penalties (the Lightning scored both times) in the game, he’ll be a scratch tonight.  Coming in for him will be Jason Spezza.
Here’s how Toronto’s lineup will shape up ahead of the game tonight in Tampa.

#Leafs lines during morning skate May 6/22
Bunting-Matthews-Marner Nylander-Tavares-Anderson*Mikheyev-Kampf-KerfootEngvall-Blackwell-SpezzaExtra: Clifford, *Filling in for Kase
Campbell (starter)Kallgren
— David Alter (@dalter) May 6, 2022

Ondrej Kase wasn’t …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

Adding Jason Spezza to the lineup gives the Leafs a spark and changes the identity of the fourth line

This first game of the series saw Kyle Clifford take an unnecessary penalty and subsequent suspension. Game Two saw Wayne Simmonds take two penalties that resulted in the Lightning scoring on the powerplay. While this has been going on Jason Spezza has been patiently (or impatiently) watching and waiting for his opportunity to come in, and while Clifford’s suspension will be over and there’s the potential for the Leafs to try the fourth line they wanted in Game One, it’s far more beneficial to go with Spezza.
Part of the appeal of having Spezza come in is he is the rallying cry for why there is a sense of urgency about the Leafs winning this season. Spezza, at 38, is in win-now mode even if the Leafs aren’t otherwise feeling much pressure. The fact that Jason is just 5 points off from 1000 likely means he’ll be back in the NHL next season to hit that milestone, but it feels like this is at the very least his second last chance at it, and the best chance to add value.
Spezza coming would also allow for the Leafs to give their second power play unit a different look, and potentially with Jason lining up at center on …

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Author: Jon Steitzer / The Leafs Nation

Maple Leafs fall on penalties as the real Lightning step up to even the series

It was never going to be like Game 1 the whole way through, nut for 19 minutes and 57 seconds of Game 2, it looked as though the Toronto Maple Leafs had picked up where they left off.
That was until Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman picked up a loose puck after a failed clearing attempt and beat Jack Campbell for a deflating end to the opening 20 minutes.
That was the first of four points Hedman recorded as the Lightning defeated the Maple Leafs 5-3 to even up their first-round series at a game apiece.
A simple power-play goal against shouldn’t have let the air out of the Leafs as badly as it did, but it was the beginning of a sequence of plays where Toronto ended up on the wrong side of things.
Andrei Vasilevskiy returned to his dominant form. The Tampa goaltender made 13 of his 31 saves in the opening period, stifling the Leafs on their two power-play chances in the frame.
Over a minute into the second period, the Maple Leafs had some sustained pressure at Tampa’s net, capped by a chance in the slot for Timothy Liljegren, but Vasilevskiy flashed the leather with a highlight-reel save to limit the damage.
Less than a minute later, Hedman recorded his second po …

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Author: David Alter / The Leafs Nation