Two of the league’s most talented offensive teams are set to face-off in the opening round of the 2022–23 NHL Playoffs. The Toronto Maple Leafs will likely kick things off with home ice advantage over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Maple Leafs are desperate to find any semblance of playoff success, possibly to save the jobs of their coach and general manager. While the Lightning are looking to continue an unmatched streak of dominance in this era of the NHL.
Season stats and head-to-head matchup
|TEAM/STAT||W||L||OTL||P||GF||xGF%||GA||CF%||PP%||PK%||Record vs. Opponent|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||45||21||10||100||257||53.7%||209||50.9%||25.7%||80.5%||1-0-1 (1 game remaining)|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||45||26||6||96||264||53.1%||229||51.5%||25.1%||79.9%||1-1-0 (1 game remaining)|
Expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and Corsi for % (CF%) stats are in all situations from moneypuck.com.
Toronto Maple Leafs storyline to follow
At this point, it is a running gag. The Toronto Maple Leafs are playoff bound for the seventh consecutive season. But every year so far, they have lost in the opening round. Six straight first-round losses. This type of postseason performance is disappointing, to the say the least, to anyone following the team. But for those within and around the organization, it is nothing short of frustrating.
This season, the pressure is clearly on. Head coach Sheldon Keefe, now in his third full season with the team, and GM Kyle Dubas, who is coming up on five years at the helm of the Maple Leafs, might be on their last chance to have some playoff success.
Dubas is going all-in, as much as he can, on this run with an incredibly active trade deadline. In comes Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari, Luke Schenn, Erik Gustafsson, Jake McCabe, and Sam Lafferty to try and push this team to new heights.
A lot is riding on this one playoff run. It would not be surprising to see major changes this offseason if the Maple Leafs were to lose early on or choke away the series as they have in the past.
Tampa Bay Lightning storyline to follow
The Tampa Bay Lightning are a modern day dynasty. About as close to one as a team could be in the salary cap era. In the past eight seasons, the Lightning have made the playoffs seven times. They have made the Conference Finals six times. And the Stanley Cup Finals four times. Most importantly, they won back-to-back Cups in 2019–20 and 2020–21, while losing to the Colorado Avalanche in the 2021–22 Cup Final.
At a certain point, this has to have an end, right? All good things do. With the way the Lightning have been playing lately, it could be foreshadowing the end of the road for this unbelievable streak of success.
Heading into the playoffs, the Lightning have a record of 10–10–4 in the past 24 games. This includes a couple of stretches where they have lost five straight games or lost eight of ten. Not exactly the level of performance one would like to see heading into what will be a tough matchup.
There is one big question floating around the Lightning for this postseason. After three consecutive seasons that have gone all the way to the Cup Finals, are the Lighting beginning to show signs of fatigue?
These two teams are primed for a high-event matchup. They are two of the most offensively stacked teams in the league ready to go head-to-head in the first round for the second consecutive season. In 2021–22, the Lightning prevailed in seven games.
On paper, the Lightning still have the advantage. They are led by future Hall of Famers at every position, whereas the Leafs have a forward or two that may hit that level in time.
No matter how strong the offence of the Maple Leafs is, they still have to find a way to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy, who might very well be the best goalie in the world. In his playoff career, he has a 2.3 GAA and .923 SV%. In the past three playoff runs, he has seven shutouts in 73 games. This is still a huge barrier to Toronto’s success and gives the Lightning a major advantage at the goaltending position.
Although the Maple Leafs shored up their depth quite well at the trade deadline, they may have a battle with chemistry after making so many changes to their lineup in a short period of time. They have a rotation of eight or nine defenders they can use, which makes it difficult to develop any sense of regularity and familiarity with the lineup or one’s defensive partners. Though the additions have given them a stronger defensive depth in this matchup.
Toronto will be playing desperate hockey as they try to show that they deserve a spot amongst the best in the league. There will be a ton of pressure on them to perform after so many years of postseason failure. They will have to harness this frantic energy to give them an edge over an experienced, but possibly fatigued, Lightning team.
Is this finally the year the Toronto Maple Leafs win a playoff series? After years of misery, it looks like they have a good chance.
4–3 Maple Leafs
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