The Toronto Maple Leafs put forth a much better effort but still came up short, losing 3-1 to the high-flying Tampa Bay Lightning at Scotiabank Arena Thursday.
Leafs Nation feeling a little anxious the past month with the unsettled play of the blue and white can take a little comfort in last nights results in which they matched the leagues number one team for most of the evening.
An Alex Killorn knuckler from the high slot fooled Andersen who misplayed the shot eluding the Danish net-minder with under 6-minutes to play that proved to be the winner. Steven Stamkos shorthanded and Nikita Kucherov into an empty net had the others for the visitors. Mitch Marner with his 26th had given the Leafs the early lead.
It was encouraging to see the spirited energy the young Leafs exhibited looking more playoff ready than they have in weeks. However they came up on the wrong end of the scoreboard against the Lightning minus key players Victor Hedman and J.T. Miller. The Leafs were without Nazim Kadri and Jake Muzzin both expected to be in the lineup when its starts for real again Thursday in Boston.
A final match-up against Montreal at the Bell Centre Saturday wraps up the season that may have playoff implications for the Habs but is merely a tune-up for the Leafs.
Jake Gardiner, sorely missed the last month, was back on the blue line and while a little rusty gave the back-end more stability, especially exiting their defensive zone. Calle Rosen continues to impress and is fitting in nicely giving coach Babcock some good options on defense. He will get another look in the season ender in Montreal on Saturday. You can never have enough depth in the playoffs.
With only game 82 left to play before heading to Beantown in a few days, there is optimism in Leafs-land but the real concern facing the much more physical Bruins is how they’ll respond.
The key to any playoff victory starts in goal without any question; the best players have to outplay the opponent’s best players and the games will be won in the trenches by the bottom six forwards.
In Toronto’s case, to have any success against the Bruins, they will need stellar goaltending from Frederik Andersen; the forwards have to be first on the puck; they have to keep their feet moving at all times and if they can manage to execute for 60-minutes, their skill level will take care of the rest.
It’s a monumental task but very doable.