Analyzing the keys to victory for Leafs, Lightning in Game 7

Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe discusses all the reasons that he and the group are confident heading into Game 7 vs. the Lightning, says the top players have shown so much fight, perseverance, and proves this team and season is different.

How does Drake affect the Maple Leafs?

That’s the question we’re all asking after he potentially cursed Toronto with a presumptive instagram story ahead of the Maple Leafs actually eliminating their opponent. While they had a chance to close out the series in six, the reigning Stanley Cup champions forced a decisive Game 7.

So what are the keys to each side moving on to the next round?

Toronto: Controlling the matchups with Auston Matthews

The Maple Leafs have home ice for Game 7, and that’s something the coaches have to use to their advantage. At 5-on-5 in this series, Toronto’s still generating one of the highest rates of shot attempts with Matthews on the ice and passes to the slot thanks to both the centre’s completions and the puck moving efforts of his right winger, Mitch Marner. And Matthews still unsurprisingly leads the team in shot attempts, including from the slot.

But the Lightning are doing their best to limit that, especially by getting in the way of his attempts. So, with last change, there’s likely going to be a concerted effort to keep Matthews away from the likes of Anthony Cirelli (who leads in blocked shots for Tampa Bay) and Victor Hedman (who leads in blocked passes) since they’ve done their best to slow one of the biggest offensive threats in this series.

If the second line with John Tavares and William Nylander can keep up the pressure they generated in Game 6, and the top line is clicking, Tampa Bay may be in trouble.

Tampa Bay: Maintaining a lead

The Lightning blew a 2-0 lead in Game 6, which could have ended their season. Luckily, they managed to knot the game once more to force overtime. But this could become a problem if they don’t handle Toronto’s efforts to pull ahead better.

At 5-on-5, the Lightning are fine from an offensive generation standpoint while playing with a lead — but they aren’t finishing as many of their chances to build on it. The problem is that they’re allowing a good amount of quality chances back, and more of those are ending up in the back of the net than expected. In the regular season, Toronto was one of the better teams at playing from behind; they’re still on the higher end relative to other teams in the playoffs. So far, through six games, Tampa Bay generally hasn’t been all that inspiring while behind in games, so if that holds up in this decider, they’re going to need to build a lead and find a way to limit Toronto from mounting a comeback.

Toronto: Staying disciplined, or power killing consistently

In Game 1, the Maple Leafs’ short-handed efforts helped them open the series with a win. This wasn’t something new; rather, it was an extension of their regular season play with aggressive two-way play while on the penalty kill.

But now through six games, Tampa Bay has seven power play goals. Right or wrong on the calls that are and aren’t being made, Toronto has to work on maintaining their discipline, or find a way to get back to their power killing ways more consistently in this matchup by disrupting their opponent in formation with their sticks, forcing the puck out of the zone (ideally with possession like in the regular season), and finding ways to test Andrei Vasilevskiy off the rush.

In all situations, the Leafs have taken 35 penalties while only drawing 30. While the Lightning lead in offensive zone penalties (eight), Toronto’s at the top with 20 in the defensive end. In Thursday night’s game, the away team took two third period penalties back-to-back, and the tying goal ended up in the back of the net on that 5-on-3 advantage for Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay: Protecting Andrei Vasilevskiy

Going into this series, Tampa Bay had the bonafide edge in net. Jack Campbell started the season strong, and saw his play decline as it went on. Vasilevskiy still finished towards the top of the league in goals saved above expected, even if he wasn’t at his usual level. But his presence outright gave the Lightning the advantage in goal.

While Toronto’s goalie is the only one to have gotten the hook at one point in this series, their performances haven’t been all too different, after all. Campbell’s allowed 2.66 goals above expected in all situations, while Vasilevskiy (in a bit more ice time) is at 2.72. There’s a different expectation between these two goaltenders, and maybe the Lightning aren’t accustomed to going into the post-season without having his Conn Smythe-calibre play. But right now that isn’t what they’re getting. So what can the team do to help him get there?

Special teams aside, there’s some work to be done at 5-on-5. There, Toronto’s created 95 slot attempts, 56 of which have connected on net, and eight of which have ended up in the back of it. Both teams have generated a lot off the rush, but the Maple Leafs have the edge there and have created quite a few scoring chances off the cycle unlike their opponent. Contributing to those quality chances is the Maple Leafs’ ability to move the puck to the slot, so that’s another area the Lightning could work to clean up.

Looking ahead to Game 7

As wide open as the beginning of this series was, the last few games have been a lot closer. And Game 7 likely won’t be any different. That’s why every quality chance or every mistake matters that much more.

The stakes are as high as ever, with the Maple Leafs facing elimination for the first time in this series against a team that knows how to elevate its game when it matters the most. On the other side, there’s Toronto who has to get over this hurdle against a team that may be low on gas after two lengthy runs.

So will it be Goodnight Tampa on Saturday night? Or will it once again be Goodnight Toronto?

Data via Sportlogiq

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