The Toronto Maple Leafs in game 46 of the season finally showed the team people have been waiting to see with a solid 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Amalie Arena Thursday night.
It was a game that featured two of the NHL’s premiere teams and was everything advertised. The high tempo game from puck drop provided elite skill from the goal-tending out with Frederik Andersen out dueling counterpart Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Leafs getting the much needed secondary scoring from slumping Patrick Marleau and Nazem Kadri. If the Leafs are going to have any success at all in the extended season it’s imperative they continue to get production from the bottom six.
The Lightning pushed the Leafs hard for the equalizer in the last few minutes but, similar to Toronto, their offensive setup namely the one-timer to Steven Stamkos is very predictable. Toronto did a great job defending it and Andersen was positioned perfectly to thwart any Tampa Bay thought of sending the game to overtime.
Stamkos had a strong game for the Lightning, while only picking up an assist he had a game-high 10-shots on goal (18 attempts at the net). Victor Hedman had 8-shots himself, so between the two of them they had 18 of Tampa’s 38-shots on goal.
Mitch Marner, with the winner on a nifty setup from John Tavares, became the first winger in Maple Leafs history to have at least 60 points per year in his first 3-seasons.
Nazem Kadri had his strongest game in a month and received a boost from Kasperi Kapanen who kept the Tampa defense on edge with his speed that opened up some ice for his line mates.
The effort by the Leafs with a dash of desperation needs to continue as the pack tightens up for playoff positioning with Montreal and Boston hot on their trail.
The line juggling by Mike Babcock had the Lightning off balance and for a stretch had them chasing the game. Its been said over and over for the Leafs to have any success this has to be the formula.
The Toronto defense kept it simple in there own zone and weren’t running around; that allowed the forwards to break out quicker and caught the Lightning pinching a number of times. This provided the Leafs with numerous 2-1’s and 3-2’s that, if they start to cash in, will have teams hesitant to press going forward.
Terrific game all around but it’s only one of many to play and with a winnable game against the Panthers on the back end, Toronto has to maintain the same intensity they had against Tampa.
With teams starting to bunch up in the standings and games checked off the calendar, the points become even more valuable. It’s great to steal one in Tampa but the Leafs have to beat teams like the Panthers if the want to remain with the elite.