(2A) Maple Leafs at (3A) Lightning
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Maple Leafs lead best-of-7 series 3-2
The Tampa Bay Lightning seek to avoid elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Amalie Arena on Thursday.
The Lightning, who have won the Stanley Cup each of the past two seasons, faced elimination once during that run, defeating the New York Islanders 1-0 in Game 7 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals.
“Forget about the past, it’s all about today,” Lightning center Nick Paul said. “Everyone’s focused, everyone knows what they need to do. It’s just a ready atmosphere in there.”
[RELATED: Complete Maple Leafs vs. Lightning series coverage]
Toronto is looking to advance to the second round for the first time since 2004. The Maple Leafs have lost their first playoff series each of the past five seasons and have lost seven straight games when they had a chance to eliminate their opponent.
“If anything we’ve learned along the way it’s that you can’t get too focused on the fact that it’s an elimination game or anything like that,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “You have to focus on the things you’ve done well in the series. You have to focus on continuing to get better. Focus on your game.”
The Maple Leafs and Lightning have alternated wins for each of the first five games. Tampa Bay is 16-0 in the postseason following a loss since the beginning of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Here are 3 keys for Game 6:
1. Special teams
Toronto is 4-for-24 on the power play in this series, but also has scored two shorthanded goals. Tampa Bay is 6-for-28 with the man advantage.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper believes his team has been better during 5-on-5 play and would like more game time played at even strength. But he’s frustrated with the mental mistakes Tampa Bay has made that have led to penalties.
“It’s the timing of our penalties, the type of penalties we’re taking – those are the ones that are biting us,” Cooper said. “Too many men? We’re better than that. A couple of pucks over the glass. Just freebies we’re giving away at ill-advised times.”
Toronto scored a power-play goal and two 4-on-4 goals in Game 5. Keefe says their power play has been good, but wants more.
“Obviously getting clean looks has been a challenge,” Keefe said. “But at the same time, we’ve found a way to score pretty consistently. If you’re getting one power-play goal a game, you’ll take that.”
2. Fast starts
In the first four games, the team that scored first ended up winning.
Game 5 was different as Tampa Bay jumped out to a 2-0 lead before Toronto rallied with three straight goals over the next two periods to take a 3-2 lead in an eventual 4-3 win.
Getting off to a fast start in Game 6 is something both the Lightning and Maple Leafs are focused on.
“I think we want to just try to attack,” Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews said. “Just attack and be physical. We’ve got to be really good defensively as well so we can transition those pucks into the [offensive] zone. “
3. Finding Vasilevskiy
Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has put up rather pedestrian numbers this series with a 3.65 goals-against-average and an .880 save percentage. His teammates will be quick to defend him and take the blame for many of the goals allowed.
But Vasilevskiy, the 2021 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, has made his reputation on keeping mistakes out of the net and playing big when the moment requires it.
He had five shutouts in the playoffs last season, four of them coming in potential series-clinching games. In this series, however, Vasilevskiy has not given up fewer than three goals in any of the first five games.
Maple Leafs projected lineup
Michael Bunting – Auston Matthews – Mitchell Marner
Ilya Mikheyev – John Tavares – Alexander Kerfoot
William Nylander – David Kampf – Pierre Engvall
Jason Spezza – Colin Blackwell – Ondrej Kase
Morgan Rielly – Ilya Lyubushkin
Jake Muzzin – TJ Brodie
Mark Giordano – Justin Holl
Scratched: Wayne Simmonds, Timothy Liljegren, Nicholas Abruzzese, Kyle Clifford, Joey Anderson
Injured: Rasmus Sandin (knee), Petr Mrazek (groin)
Lightning projected lineup
Ondrej Palat – Steven Stamkos – Nikita Kucherov
Anthony Cirelli – Brayden Point – Alex Killorn
Brandon Hagel – Nicholas Paul – Ross Colton
Pat Maroon – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Corey Perry
Victor Hedman – Erik Cernak
Ryan McDonagh – Zach Bogosian
Mikhail Sergachev – Cal Foote
Scratched: Riley Nash, Jan Rutta
The Maple Leafs and Lightning each held a full morning skate and are expected to use the same 18 skaters from Game 5.