The Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs‘ moments of truth are nearly upon us. Seemingly destined for a first-round rematch of last year’s seven-game epic for most of the season, the puck will finally drop in Toronto within a week’s time.
With only two games left for each team before last night’s game, the hard fought 3-4 loss, for the Lightning, provided a glimpse of what is to come. Together the teams combined for 20 penalties and 52 penalty minutes, including multiple roughing minors, and fighting majors — most notably Luke Schenn and Pat Maroon’s first period drop of the gloves.
Along with plenty of extracurriculars.
As well as Corey Perry and Pat Maroon stirring up trouble around the Leafs’ bench, and opportunistic physical play from both sides. All-in-all, we saw a little bit of everything hinting towards the forthcoming grudge match.
Admittedly, Toronto was without their top goaltender, Ilya Samsonov, and a handful of skaters, most notably Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, while Tampa was missing Tanner Jeannot — who has been a physical force since being acquired.
With star players injured, and home ice already secured, it would make sense if Toronto’s main objective for the game was to rough up the Lightning as much as possible, but in the Lightning they found an opponent willing to engage and set the tone for their upcoming series as they try to shake what is now a four-game losing streak.
For both teams, the stakes could not be higher. Toronto have exited the playoffs after the first-round six seasons in a row, have not seen the second-round since 2004, and have a general manager, who oversaw their six years of first-round failures, on the hot seat after essentially going all-in at the trade deadline in anticipation of the matchup.
The Lightning, of course, are trying to fit as much success into their “window” as possible. Three consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Final, including two cups, in three seasons has made them a modern-day dynasty. But like all past dynasties, they all eventually come to an end and the Lightning will look to stave off the changing tide as long as they can, and perhaps deliver one last hurrah for team veteran Alex Killorn — whose contract is up at the conclusion of the season.
With high stakes comes high emotions, and a heightened level of intensity. If last night was any indication of what’s to come, then fans should buckle up for a fast-paced hard-fought series.