In Montreal, we like to go after the Maple Leafs like a piñata at a children’s party. In Toronto too, you might say…
But we have to give them credit on Tuesday night. They were already two goals behind after seven minutes of play. Their goalkeeper Jack Campbell, driven out in the previous match, was tottering.
The unlikely comeback of the Leafs, who won 4-3 to take a three-to-two lead in that first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, may have started on a mat and not on the ice.
In the shadows, Jason Spezza, barely five minutes of use during the game, gave a stirring speech to his teammates in the locker room between the first and second periods.
“He is a great leader who has seen others,” one of the heroes of the meeting, William Nylander, told reporters. He knows what it takes [to win] and when he talks, we listen. He said that our effort was not enough and that we had to fight. We found our legs in second. »
The group probably figured that returning to Tampa against the two-time Stanley Cup champions one game away from elimination wouldn’t be the idea of the century for a post-mortem, and another, enjoyable year.
So we gave ourselves another chance to avoid elimination before the second round for the 19th season in a row…
The tension was starting to run high in Toronto and some players no doubt slept well after the game.
John Tavares, 10 points in 17 playoff games since arriving in Toronto, gave the Leafs renewed hope by deflecting a puck past the net on the power play in the second period and setting up Morgan Rielly’s tying goal in the third.
Nylander, two points in the first four games, another player associated with the Leafs’ playoff woes, exploded with three points in Game 5. On his goal in the third, another scapegoat for the media and the fans, Justin Holl, prepared the game with an efficient and quick recovery. Holl had been branded the club’s worst defender by a reporter in a scathing exchange between the head coach and the reporter after Sunday’s defeat.
Credit where credit is due, Auston Matthews, 60 goals in the season, finally scored a big one in the playoffs, the winning goal, with just over six minutes left in the third…
And finally, there is goalkeeper Jack Campbell, who was not given a lot of skin after a few minutes. He pulled himself together in a brilliant way, even if his movements were not always on point. He made his biggest save at the expense of Nikita Kucherov, from the shoulder, on a shot from the slot, in the moments before the winning goal.
But the Lightning would not have found themselves in their current position if they had not received repeated penalties, twice for having found themselves with an extra player on the ice, and thus revived the Leafs. .
“We dozed off with our lead and forgot the game plan,” said Steven Stamkos. We need to regroup. We knew the show wouldn’t be easy. They are good on the other side. We will be ready. »
You don’t win two Stanley Cups by accident, however, and the Leafs will have a hard time finishing off the champions and preventing them from becoming the first club in 40 years to win three Cups in a row. But to conquer without danger, one triumphs without glory.