Time: 7:30 PM EST
Location: Scotiabank Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: ESPN 2, BSSUN
Opponent SBNation Site: Pension Plan Puppets
Let the fun begin! Yes, I realize that the word “fun” is doing a lot of work in that first sentence, but despite all the stress that comes along with this big ol’ ball of playoff anxiety, it is fun. So enjoy it. Of the sixteen fan bases still playing, ours has the least amount of pressure on it. After all, no other team has raised the Cup in the 2020s, right?
That being said, gird yourself for what is going to be a tough, physical series. Toronto has already called their first shot when their head coach (and former Lightning forward) Sheldon Keefe described the series as having the potential to be “borderline violent”. There is going to be more than the normal share of post-whistle scrums, extra crosschecks, and facewashing. Pat Maroon and Wayne Simmonds may chirp themselves hoarse by the end of the second period.
Amidst all of this chaos there will be plenty of skill on display over the next week or two. The two teams will have their opportunities to overcome the interference and obstruction and do what they do best - try and score goals. We already went over some of the story lines for the series in our preview so let’s focus on what we’re watching for in Game One.
How will the Maple Leafs defend the Stamkos Line?
A large percentage of the Lightning’s recent offense has come from their top line. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are back to their old tricks and operating with the same brain again, making it hard for other teams to stop them. If they are able to continue that against the Leafs, it could be a short series in Tampa’s favor.
Teams that have had success against the Lightning have found ways to frustrate Kucherov, mostly by pressuring him when he first touches the puck in the offensive zone. If they can get him off of his game early, it could neutralize the Lightning’s biggest offensive threat.
Can the Lightning slow down the Matthews line?
On the other side of the ice, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and whoever fills in for Michael Bunting will be leaned on for the bulk of the offense for Toronto. Coach Keefe does have the final change in the first two games so we’ll see who he wants to match Matthews up against early.
With Brayden Point playing on a line with Brandon Hagel and Anthony Cirelli it’s a good clue that Coach Cooper will be looking to use them against Matthews when he can. A team has to have some offensive capability on the line defending Matthews to force him to work in his own zone. Cirelli, Hagel, and Point are responsible enough (and fast enough) to stay with him and Marner defensively while still being able to generate their own offense.
What happens if the Maple Leafs face adversity?
A full arena, the best team they’ve had to cheer for in years, and a chance to knock off the defending Champs? Yeah, the joint is going to be jumping and the Leafs are going to come out flying.
We know the Lightning know how to handle the pressure and bounce back. They’ve walked through that fire already. What happens, however, if the Lightning score early? Will it rattle a team that has struggled in past postseasons?
How much are the refs going to let go?
Coach Keefe has put them on notice, but refs are gonna ref and they met let quite a few things go in the name of “letting them play”. If they do call it tightly, can the Lightning handle the Leafs power play? The same goes for Toronto. The Bolts have showed signs of life over the last few weeks with the advantage and that could be a deciding factor in the series.
It’s unlikely we’ll get answers to every question we have for this series, but it’ll be entertaining nonetheless. So sit back, grab the bottle of Pepto (or Tito’s) and enjoy.
Toronto Maple Leafs Potential Lines
Alexander Kerfoot - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Ilya Mikheyev - John Tavares - Ondřej Kaše
William Nylander - David Kämpf - Pierre Engvall
Kyle Clifford - Colin Blackwell - Wayne Simmonds
Morgan Rielly - Ilya Lyubushkin
Jake Muzzin - T.J. Brodie
Mark Giordano - Timothy Liljegren
From their practice yesterday. The notable changes from the lines in the season preview are that Michael Bunting wasn’t out there, but Ondrej Kase (concussion) was. Bunting, the top line rookie, has been day-to-day with his injury and should show up at some point in the series. Kase was also listed as day-to-day but appears ready to go.
Tampa Bay Lightning Potential Lines
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Brandon Hagel - Anthony Cirelli - Brayden Point
Alex Killorn - Ross Colton - Nick Paul
Pat Maroon - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Corey Perry
Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev - Cal Foote
Updated 1:35 pm. Per a Tweet from Joe Smith it looks like Cal Foote may draw in over Zach Bogosian.