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Second playoff come from behind win

Leafs beat Tampa on the road in overtime again
Krzysztof Baran on Unsplash
Krzysztof Baran on Unsplash

Badly outshot and outplayed in the first period, the Leafs were down 4-1 by the end of the second, despite an early second-period goal by Acciari from Justin Holl and Ryan O'Reilly and a show of energy that had them dominating the shots on goal but unable to capitalize. Fans and TV talking heads were beginning to rationalize going home with a split.

The Twitterverse and Facebook, as they have these playoffs and in recent past years, began to bemoan the absence of the superstars as the Leafs went to the dressing room with McCabe in the penalty box on a last-second call. Would the effort of holding off this penalty, if they could even do it, slow the momentum that had been building in the second period?

And if it didn't, would the unbelievably talented players who delighted us all season with slick combinations and pretty goals figure out that playoffs are different, with more bumps and bruises, goals with traffic in front of the netminder, even garbage bounces, maybe not so stylish?

Turns out they did. The top trio of Nylander, Marner and Matthews combined for a goal in the first half of the third, a great shot by Matthews, and you could almost feel the self-doubt from the Lightning as the infamously dreaded three-goal lead was now only two. The pressure and shots on goal kept going in favour of the Leafs, and then former Leaf Zach Boghosian took a penalty. Nylander put the puck onto Matthews' stick on a feed from Giordano, with the big centre's patented release making no mistake in beating the heretofore invincible-in-the-playoffs Vasilevsky. 

Toronto Maple Leafs | Photo by Luis Fallas on Unsplash
Toronto Maple Leafs | Photo by Luis Fallas on Unsplash

The heavy Leaf pressure led to some odd-man rushes from Tampa, but some great shot-blocking by Rielly and stellar saves by Samsonov made sure no damage was done. With the score 4-3 Tampa but the momentum definitely in the Leafs' favour, Ryan O'Reilly and Mitch Marner combined to get the puck to Morgan Rielly, who moved in from the point and let one go through traffic that a screened Vasilevsky never really saw. It tied the game, thanks again to the bold, confident play of the seasoned former Notre Dame Hound, who has been a Leaf stalwart for years and is really coming into his own.

Once again, the Leafs came from behind to force overtime. Just over four minutes in, Nylander gave the puck to Giordano, who sent it to the net, where Kerfoot deflected it past Vasilevsky for the Leaf win. This was the second overtime win on enemy ice and gave our boys a 3-1 series lead with two of the maximum remaining three games at home: a single Leaf victory ends the series. Tampa has to be demoralized after losing the lead twice at home.

Oakville's John Tavares, the Leaf Captain, didn't figure on the scoreboard, but especially when everything seemed to be going Tampa's way, he was a force for leadership and confidence. He made opportunities for himself and others and was relentless in harassing the Tampa goalie. Matthews, who hadn't looked as though he didn't quite get the playoff program, came into himself tonight, playing 200-foot hockey and making chances, coming close to a hat trick.

The key takeaway from this game is that the sense we have had from the beginning that these guys have the maturity to succeed, that they want this and believe they deserve it and can take it, cannot now be denied. Tampa is a force in playoff hockey, and after a demoralizing first game, this group fairly pummelled them in the second at home and came back for two overtime wins in their house. These guys clearly believe in themselves, even when others count them out.

Apart from those on the scoreboard and the solid play of O'Reilly, Schenn, McCabe, Brodie and others, Matthew Knies, called up because of the Bunting suspension, is going to be one to watch. He made several good defensive plays and set up a number of opportunities to score himself or give someone else a chance to. He showed a tremendous presence of mind to save a goal everyone thought had gone in, but his lightning-fast move prevented it: a goal that could have been a difference maker. Coach Sheldon Keefe will have a tough choice when Bunting returns from the suspension.

Leafs win 5-4. The next game, potentially a decider, is in Toronto on Thursday 27th; the puck drops at 7:00 pm.