Every hockey fan should have their eyes glued to one series during the first round. The Tampa Bay Lightning going against the Toronto Maple Leafs is looking like it’s going to be a guaranteed classic.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Why Tampa is going to make this series fun is quite simple. Back-to-back Stanley Cup champions, and a roster that is packed from top to bottom with superstars. With the success the team has seen in recent years and how dominant their roster can be, it’s hard to bet against them.
The team did seem to struggle mid season. I think it’s hard to stay dialed in during the middle of the regular season. Especially when the team is so good that only the playoffs really matter. The wins weren’t coming as easy and players such as Vasilevskiy seemed to struggle around March.
However Tampa has really woken up in the last week or two. Stamkos became the first player to have five straight three point games since Jari Kurri in 1992-93, he also passed Martin St. Louis for most points in franchise history. Nikita Kucherov also tallied his 600th on the same goal that Stamkos broke the record on. This team is really heating up, and they’re a massive threat to anyone’s Cop hopes.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Ok, hear me out… this Toronto team is different from the one that’s lost 4 straight winner-take-all games in the playoffs, and bounced in the first round each of the last 5 seasons. With the deadline addition of Mark Giordano and the emergence of Timothy Liligren, they’re better defensively than they’ve been for a very long time. Auston Matthews has proven to the world he’s the best goal scorer on the planet, hitting the 60 goal plateau in 9 less games than Stamkos did back in 2012. Mitch Marner is also making the case he belongs to be mentioned with the league’s best players.
I do believe this Toronto team is better than Tampa. The only thing that could get in their way is their own heads. Years of playoff disappointments will be a massive mental burden on the team, losing in the playoffs is almost built into their framework. If success doesn’t come this season we may see massive changes to the Maple Leafs, and the team may look very different next year. Whether that be management, coaching or player personnel.
I truly believe this will be the best series we see in the first round. Two amazing teams are going head to head in what should be an all time classic. Both teams grabbed two wins against each other this season, one of Toronto’s wins did come in overtime.
I would’ve been 100% certain we’d see a Toronto series win if it wasn’t for their last meeting; an 8-1 dominating win by Tampa Bay. Toronto insisted it was a write off game. If it was it won’t be a huge deal for them. Jack Campbell was riding the bench and Auston Matthews didn’t play. But it will be hard to keep an 8-1 loss out of their heads. They also have to respect they’re playing the back-to-back camps.
That respect absolutely has to go the other way though. Tampa can’t treat this game like every other first round opponent. This is a very good Maple Leafs team that will be very hard to beat.
All that said, I still have the Leafs winning this in six games. That Toronto team is too good to not break the streak of playoff failures.
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