3 Keys: Lightning at Maple Leafs, Game 1 of Eastern First Round

(3A) Lightning at (2A) Maple Leafs

Eastern Conference First Round, Game 1

7:30 p.m. ET: ESPN2, CBC, SN, TVAS, BSSUN

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning are very familiar with each other entering Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series at Scotiabank Arena on Monday.

Each team posted a lopsided victory in games during the past month. Toronto defeated Tampa Bay 6-2 on April 4 and the Lightning responded with an 8-1 victory on April 21. Each game was played at Amalie Arena in Tampa.

It’s a homecoming of sorts for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who grew up about 20 minutes north of Toronto in Markham, Ontario. He said the frenzy of being back has subsided during his 14-season NHL career.

“I got to have dinner at my parents’ house last night,” he said. “Other than that, there’s a lot less people hitting me up for tickets.”

One of the Maple Leafs’ prime objectives is to try to keep Stamkos in check. The forward scored a personal NHL-best and Lightning-high 106 points (42 goals, 64 assists) in 81 games.

“I’ve always had the belief in myself that I can be a difference maker in this thing when I get on the ice,” he said. “You’re still always trying to prove people wrong.”

So are the Maple Leafs, who are seeking their first series win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2004. Coach Sheldon Keefe said his team is ready to embrace the moment.

“I think it’s a lot of things,” he said. “The maturity of our team, knowing that we’ve been building toward this, and also just the quick turnaround.”

Toronto (54-21-7) finished second in the Atlantic Division and Tampa Bay (51-23-8) was third. The Lightning were 2-1-1 in the regular season series; the Maple Leafs were 2-2-0.

Teams that win Game 1 are 499-228 (68.8 percent) winning a best-of-7 NHL playoff series, including 6-2 in the first round last season.

Here are 3 keys for Game 1:

1. Simmonds, Clifford get the call

With Keefe expecting a rugged, “bordering on violent,” series, forwards Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford will play on the fourth line.

“We’ve talked to them the past couple of weeks about what we need from them and what our expectations are,” Keefe said. “Part of what they bring, of course, is the physicality and the presence and the veteran experience.”

Veteran forward Jason Spezza is a healthy scratch but Keefe said he’ll be inserted into the lineup at some point during the series.

2. Getting into Vasilevskiy’s head, and on his doorstep

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has played every minute of the past two postseasons, each of which ended with the Lightning winning the Stanley Cup, and last season he was voted the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. For the Maple Leafs to overcome his heroics, they’ll have to have a net-front presence and create screens in front of him.

The Maple Leafs know that’s easier said than done when the Lightning have defensemen like Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh protecting their goaltender.

“I think it’s going to take a lot of brain power and physicality and just being willing to take a beating to get in front of him,” Simmonds said.

3. Quick Lightning start increases pressure on Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs haven’t won a postseason series in 18 years so any negative trends that happen early on will put Toronto on the hot seat.

The home fans will be pumped for the game but could turn on the Maple Leafs quickly if things start going south.

Tampa Bay knows that and will try to exploit that very aspect by getting off to a quick start.

“Those guys over there are probably extremely motivated because of what’s happened,” Stamkos said. “We’ve had some failures in the past, and it certainly motivates you. You don’t want to go through that again.”

Lightning projected lineup

Ondrej Palat — Steven Stamkos — Nikita Kucherov

Brandon HagelBrayden PointAnthony Cirelli

Alex KillornRoss ColtonNicholas Paul

Pat MaroonPierre-Edouard BellemareCorey Perry

Victor Hedman — Jan Rutta

Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak

Mikhail SergachevCal Foote

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Brian Elliott

Scratched: Riley Nash, Zach Bogosian

Injured: None

Maple Leafs projected lineup

Alexander KerfootAuston MatthewsMitchell Marner

Ilya MikheyevJohn TavaresOndrej Kase

William NylanderDavid KampfPierre Engvall

Kyle Clifford — Colin Blackwell — Wayne Simmonds

Morgan RiellyIlya Lyubushkin

Mark GiordanoTimothy Liljegren

Jake MuzzinTJ Brodie

Jack Campbell

Erik Kallgren

Scratched: Jason Spezza, Justin Holl, Nicholas Abruzzese

Injured: Michael Bunting (lower body), Rasmus Sandin (knee), Petr Mrazek (groin)

Status report

Point will play after missing two of the Lightning’s last six games because of a lower-body injury. … Kase will play for the first time since March 19. He missed the final 20 regular-season games because of a concussion. … Bunting participated in an optional morning skate but the forward will not play.

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.