2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Maple Leafs vs. Lightning first-round preview

(2A) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (3A) Tampa Bay Lightning

Maple Leafs: 54-21-7, 115 points

Lightning: 51-23-8, 110 points

Season series: TOR 2-2-0; TB 2-1-1

Game 1: Monday (7:30 p.m. ET, Scotiabank Arena: ESPN2, CBC, SN, TVAS, BSSUN)

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning will meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time.

The Maple Leafs had a record-setting regular season in 2021-22, setting team marks for wins (54) and points (115). They finished second in the Atlantic Division, seven points behind the Florida Panthers, the Presidents’ Trophy winner, and five points ahead of the third-place Lightning.

Toronto has not won a Stanley Cup Playoff series since 2004 and has lost in the first round the past five seasons, including being eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in seven games last season after leading 3-1.

[RELATED: Complete Maple Leafs vs. Lightning series coverage]

The Lightning are the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions and are trying to become the first team to win three straight titles since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980-83.

Each enters the series on a hot streak. The Maple Leafs were 7-2-1 in their final 10 games of the regular season; the Lightning were 7-3-0.

Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said he understands how tough their opponent is.

“It’s a massive challenge, it goes without saying,” Keefe said. “Back-to-back champs. They have elite players at all positions, great depth, great experience, obviously, so it’s a great challenge. When I look at our group, I think the harder the better, I think that’s what we need.

“We have absolute respect for the Tampa Bay Lightning in what they’ve accomplished and who they are as a team, yet we have great belief in our own room. We’re ready for a battle.”

Toronto could get forward Michael Bunting back for Game 1. The rookie practiced Sunday and is attempting to return from an undisclosed injury.

The Lightning, meanwhile, come into the playoffs relatively healthy and hungry for a chance to make history.

“For sure, there’s going to be a lot of hype coming into this round,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who grew up just north of Toronto, in Unionville. “But this group is a mature group. We know how to handle a lot of different situations come playoff time.

“We’ll have to lean on our experience here.”

Game breakers

Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews led the NHL in goals with 60 and even-strength goals with 44. The center led Toronto with 106 points, nine more than Mitchell Marner. The 24-year-old had seven points (three goals, four assists) in three games against Tampa Bay this season.

Lightning: Stamkos scored a hat trick in a 6-4 victory against the New York Islanders on Friday. The forward’s 33 points in April are the most by a Lightning player in a calendar month and the most by any NHL skater in a month since Mario Lemieux had 34 in December 1995.

Video: TBL@NYI: Stamkos notches 10th career hat trick

Goaltending

Maple Leafs: Jack Campbell rebounded from a midseason swoon to win eight of his final nine starts. The 30-year-old represented the Maple Leafs at the 2022 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Las Vegas and finished 31-9-6 with a 2.64 goals-against average, .914 save percentage and an NHL career-high five shutouts. Rookie Erik Kallgren was relied upon to back up after Petr Mrazek was sidelined with a groin injury last month, going 8-4-1 with a 3.31 GAA, .888 save percentage and one shutout. Mrazek resumed skating last week but there is no timetable for his return.

Lightning: Despite showing some inconsistency down the stretch, Andrei Vasilevskiy tied Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky for most wins in the NHL (39) and had a 2.49 GAA, .916 save percentage and two shutouts. He has won 34 postseason games in the past two seasons. Veteran Brian Elliott (11-4-3, 2.43 GAA, .912 save percentage, one shutout) is a solid backup.

Numbers to know

Maple Leafs: The Maple Leafs have played 45 postseason games since they last won a series. The last time they advanced in the playoffs was in 2004, when they defeated the Ottawa Senators in seven games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Lightning: Victor Hedman is plus-14 in the past two postseason runs. The defenseman, who won the 2019-20 Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs, finished plus-26 this season.

X-factors

Maple Leafs: Getting Bunting back is key after he led all NHL rookies in points during the regular season with 63 (23 goals, 40 assists). Just as important is the sandpaper and feistiness he brings to the top line, goading opponents into penalties and creating space in the offensive zone for Marner and Matthews.

Lightning: Nick Paul has been a revelation since being acquired in a trade with the Senators, scoring 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 21 games with the Lightning after scoring 18 points (11 goals, seven assists) in 59 games with the Senators. The Lightning knew they were getting a physical forward in the March 20 trade, but Paul has shown the type of secondary scoring that is so vital in the playoffs.

Video: WSH@TOR: Bunting scores 2nd of game, 22nd this season

They said it

“The first thing that jumps out is the back-to-back Stanley Cups. They understand how to play and to win in the playoffs and we’re trying to figure that out as we go into this series. We know these guys well. We’ve played them twice recently in short order so it’s up to us as players to do what we have to do to get ready.” — Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly

“We should all feel good about ourselves … A couple of weeks ago we gave ourselves a chance again to clinch a spot in the playoffs. It’s not an easy thing to do. Our group takes a lot of pride in giving ourselves this opportunity, and now it’s about making the most of it.” — Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh

Will win if:

Maple Leafs: They can get out of their own way. As daunting a task as it is facing the powerhouse Lightning in the first round, this edition of the Maple Leafs is the most skilled one in a long time. Consider this: 13 players set NHL career highs in points this season. But recent postseason history shows the Maple Leafs have been unable to match their success once playoff time comes around. A year ago, for example, Matthews and Marner, their leading scorers, combined for one goal (by Matthews) in seven games in the series against the Canadiens. The talent is there but so is the pressure of playoff failures past. It’s a mental obstacle they need to overcome.

Lightning: They can smother the Maple Leafs’ high-octane power play. Playoff series often are determined by the special team battles, and this one should be no different. Toronto had the NHL’s top power play (27.3 percent), led by Matthews (16 power-play goals) and William Nylander (13), so Tampa Bay’s penalty killers will be put to the test. The Lightning ranked 11th in penalty kill (80.6 percent) and scored seven shorthanded goals this season, five less than the league-leading Maple Leafs.

How they look:

Maple Leafs projected lineup

Michael Bunting — Auston Matthews — Mitchell Marner

Alexander KerfootJohn Tavares — William Nylander

Ilya MikheyevDavid KampfPierre Engvall

Wayne SimmondsColin BlackwellJason Spezza

Morgan Rielly — Ilya Lyubushkin

Jake MuzzinTJ Brodie

Mark GiordanoTimothy Liljegren

Jack Campbell

Erik Kallgren

Scratched: Colin Blackwell, Nick Robertson, Kyle Clifford, Nick Abruzzese, Justin Holl

Injuries: Rasmus Sandin (knee), Ondrej Kase (concussion), Petr Mrazek (groin)

Lightning projected lineup

Ondrej Palat — Steven Stamkos — Nikita Kucherov

Nick Paul — Brayden PointRoss Colton

Alex KillornAnthony CirelliBrandon Hagel

Pat MaroonPierre-Edouard BellemareCorey Perry

Victor Hedman — Jan Rutta

Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak

Mikhail SergachevZach Bogosian

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Brian Elliott

Scratched: Cal Foote

Injuries: None

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