Series Tied 2-2
Time: 7:30 PM EST
Location: Scotiabank Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: ESPN 2, BSSUN
Opponent SBNation Site: Pension Plan Puppets
Can anyone figure this series out at this point? One night it’s the Lightning jumping out to a big lead, the next they’re chasing the game from the get go. Both teams have won at home and they’ve both won on the road. The only thing we think we know is that scoring the first goal is pretty important. So is getting the lead. Of course, now that it has been mentioned a team is going to jump out to a lead early and then blow it, because this series is just chaos.
The Lightning couldn’t contain Auston Matthews in the first two games as he racked up 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists), but in the next two they held him to just one assist. So expect Sheldon Keefe to keep the Matthews line as far away from Braydon Point and Anthony Cirelli as possible. Point and Cirelli may only have 2 points (a goal and an assist by Point) between them, but they’ve earned their paychecks in shutting down the Maple Leafs top line over the last two games.
With that duo handling the defense, the Lightning have been able to pull some offense from other sources - Ross Colton (3 goals), Corey Perry (2 goals), and Brandon Hagel (1 goal, 2 assists). The depth could be key for the Lightning to pull this series out.
Steven Stamkos has pointed out that the team has been really good at bouncing back from wins, but now they need to channel that energy into taking a lead in the series. Not losing back-to-back games is nice, but it won’t advance them in the playoffs at this point. They need to win back-to-back games. So why not start tonight.
A Game Five win would really ratchet up the pressure on the Maple Leafs. It would give the Lightning a chance to end the series at home, or if Toronto pulls out a win, then a winner-take-all Game Seven on Saturday night.
What’s the best way for them to do it? Keep the game at 5v5 for as much as possible. That hasn’t been easy this series as both teams have had their issues with penalties. But when they are at normal strength, the Lightning are earning more than their fair share of play. They have a 51.02 xGF% are generating 58% of the scoring chances. If they keep playing like that, and avoid the slow starts, they should have a pretty good chance at winning the series.
It also feels like we haven’t seen the best out of Andrei Vasilevskiy yet. He’s been good and has kept the Lightning in games they’ve had no business being a part of, but it feels like he hasn’t found that extra gear yet. It kind of feels like the series against the Florida Panthers last season, a series that the Lightning won in six games, but the first three games were kind of all over the map. According to Evolving Hockey, Vasy had a .908 SV%, and posted a -.59 goals saved above expected. In four games this year he has a .889 SV% and -1.63 GSAx.
Vasy and the Lightning get better as series go along. That’s good news for fans, not so good for the Leafs. It also feels like Toronto played as close to a perfect game as they could in Game One. The Lightning have yet to have that game. Game Two and Game Four were nice, but there were still little flaws throughout those nights. It feels like they’re getting closer and Game Five would be a good time for it to happen.
Toronto Maple Leafs Potential Lines
Alexander Kerfoot - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
William Nylander - John Tavares - Ondrej Kase
Ilya Mikheyev - David Kampf - Pierre Engvall
Michael Bunting - Colin Blackwell - Jason Spezza
Morgan Reilly - Ilya Lyubushkin
Jake Muzzin - T.J. Brodie
Mark Giordano - Justin Holl
Lines are based on Game Four, as of yesterday there was no indication there would be any changes, but Keefe may want to go with a more physical line-up when he can control the match-ups a little better. So maybe Wayne Simmonds is back in and Spezza is out.
Tampa Bay Lightning Potential Lines
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Brayden Point
Brandon Hagel - Nick Paul - Ross Colton
Pat Maroon - Pierre Edouard Bellemare - Corey Perry
Victor Hedman - Erik Cernak
Ryan McDonagh - Zack Bogosian
Mikhail Sergachev - Cal Foote
It’s doubtful much will change up front, but keep an eye on the defense. Once Jan Rutta is ready to return he should be in the line-up. That probably moves Zach Bogosian back to the bench.