Leafs-Lightning series review: Games 5-7

Here’s where this series began to get serious. After four games of slower, special teams hockey, last season’s Leafs-Lightning series had moments early in Game 5 that made it clear both teams were ready to skate.

The Leafs had a couple of early chances off the rush, chances that were few and far between through the first four games, and the Lightning had a couple of early goals. The Leafs erased the deficit in Game 5 in what is, by far, the best game to be a part of as a Leafs employee from 2014-2022.

Games 1-4 were blowouts, with the Lightning ultimately making Game 3 close. It wasn’t that we didn’t have any lead changes in the first four games of the series, but there weren’t any tying goals scored either: all four games, a team got out to at least a 2-0 lead and won the game. The Leafs came back from 2-0 leads in both Games 5 and 6, ultimately taking the lead in Game 6, and also tied it up 1-1 in Game 7. All three games came down to a goal.

It’s possible that the scorelines kept the games interesting and kept pushing, but I do have some statistical evidence that these games were better not just because of the score, but because it was faster. The pace in Games 5-7 increased to 206 entries per 60 minutes, up from 200 entries. The forwards on either team entered with control 44% of the time, up from 40% of the time, in addition to exiting the defensive zone with control more often and turning the puck over less. After being pretty absent on the puck early on, Mitch Marner stepped up and had a fantastic final three games of the series, result aside. Nikita Kucherov continued his dominance. William Nylander, Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly, and John Tavares all had would-be defining goals late in the series, while Brayden Point had the winning goal in Game 6 deep into overtime, and, in true playoff fashion, a feisty checking forward was the best player in Game 7.

These games were painful to go through, but they were also a lot of fun, which is why I don’t get the sense Leafs Nation was as broken by this series as some previous ones against Columbus and Montreal. There was really no shame in either team losing this series if you ignore the results of previous seasons. The quality of hockey was excellent.

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Other posts in the series:

Games 1-4 recap

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