They did it, they finally did it.
I began the last post with some strangeness, noting that a team coming back home with a 3-1 series lead, went just 8-14 since 2016 in Game 5. Well, make it 8-15 after the Leafs lost one of three opportunities to advance.
Interestingly, it’s more common for a team up 3-1 to close the series on the road, in Game 6. Carolina and Toronto did just that, upping the record for the 15 teams losing Game 5 (to take a 3-2 lead on the road) to 10-5 in Game 6, with Boston becoming the 5th team to lose in such a situation.
I find stuff like that pretty fascinating. I’ve always been intrigued by series dynamics and momentum. If a team is up 2-1, does it matter whether they won or lost Game 3? Ditto Game 5. The Leafs wound up being in the exact same position in this series as they were a season ago, up a goal headed into the third period of Game 6 with a chance to close out the series.
Despite giving up the lead, they got the job done.
They really did just sneak past Tampa Bay. I know the distinction shouldn’t matter to fans, and after multiple seasons of outplaying an opponent only to lose in 7 games, it’s fitting that the Leafs didn’t advance in a very clean fashion. They had to win three overtime games, and they were pretty brutal in the overtime periods. In a little over 26 minutes of 5v5 time in overtime, I had the 5v5 shot attempts at 29-16 for Tampa Bay, and the scoring chances at 15-3.
But, it didn’t matter. None of the goals scored by the Leafs in the extra frame (including Kerfoot’s powerplay marker in Game 4) counted as a scoring chance. Morgan Rielly’s prayer from beyond the arc found its way past Andrei Vasilevskiy’s blocker. Alex Kerfoot made an incredible tip on a Mark Giordano distance shot, and John Tavares spun off an Anthony Cirelli check and flung the puck towards the goal only to have it bank in off Darren Raddysh.
Hockey is strange, and it is good because it is strange. After feeling last year like we missed out on the second round (I can use “we” since I was employed by the team at the time) by a call and a bounce, the Leafs definitely got that in Game 6. First, the ignored high stick on Brandon Hagel at the end of regulation, and then, the bounce on the overtime winner. Do not say that nothing in this game isn’t earned.
After feeling like the Leafs got out of the first two games in a very good spot, with how poor Tampa had defended in transition, they really upped the forecheck and the Lightning forwards made the Leafs work for space. It wasn’t a very close series, though Toronto did do some things well in their own end, limiting the offensive damage, and they did win the special teams battle, drawing a couple of more penalties and also out-scoring Tampa Bay 2-1 on the powerplay in Games 3-6.
Compared to last season (and the first two games of the series) the Leafs penalty kill was a little bit stronger, with a few extra blocked shots, disrupted shots, and also held the Lightning to a scoring chance attempt every 27 seconds in the attacking zone, slightly better than last year’s 24 seconds.
Just a few percentage points better in a lot of areas on the PK was enough to turn it from being Tampa’s main weapon to a non-factor late in the series.
Now, I get that I’m writing this with the Leafs already down 1-0 to the Panthers. I haven’t watched that game yet (though the post for Game 1 will be up before Game 2) but from what I saw, the matchup for the Panthers will be a lot better for the Leafs than the one with the Lightning. From what I watched of Game 1, the Leafs were able to freely move the puck a lot more.
That should make a big difference in this series. Zone exits were a big worry for the Leafs from Games 3 and on, disrupting the Leafs ability to get quality zone entries and also get multiple players with speed to the zone to recover dump-ins. We’ll see that after the jump, with the rest of the microstatistics:
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