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Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning: 2023 Stanley Cup playoff series preview and pick



Time is a flat circle. The year is 2023. We relive the first-round of 2022. The Toronto Maple Leafs, trying to end a cycle of first-round playoff exits, secure the No. 2 slot in the Atlantic Division again and battle the Tampa Bay Lightning again, doomed to repeat history in an endless loop.

So that’s one melodramatic narrative to define this long-anticipated opening-round matchup: and I say long-anticipated because it was pretty much locked in before the Times Square ball dropped to ring in the New Year. The truth, of course: no two playoff series are the same. The Leafs and Lightning have undergone significant personnel changes, especially the Leafs, who have pivoted away from analytics and finesse toward a grittier, intangible-laden lineup, seemingly in preparation to battle the Lightning, who remain the NHL’s heaviest team. We’re not seeing a true rematch of last season. No more Ondrej Palat, Ryan McDonagh, Jack Campbell and Ilya Mikheyev, to name a few of the departed 2022 participants.

So will the experienced Bolts, who reached their third consecutive Stanley Cup Final last season, again crush the Leafs’ dream of winning their first playoff series since 2004? Or will GM Kyle Dubas’ rejigged Toronto roster, which inserted six new faces into its starting lineup at the Trade Deadline alone, finally break through into the great unknown that is Round 2?

Head to Head

Toronto: 2-0-1


Tampa Bay: 1-2-0

Each team won a home game in December. In a chippy Dec. 3 affair with 15 minor penalties, the Lightning beat the Leafs 4-3 in overtime. The Leafs answered with a 4-1 win Dec. 20, halting a five-game winning streak for Tampa. Whereas the 5-on-5 expected goals were close in the first game, the Leafs were dominant in the second. The Leafs handled Tampa with a 4-3 win in Tuesday’s rubber match despite the fact Tampa dominated the play, outshooting Toronto 48-24, but the game didn’t necessarily tell us much given the Leafs rested Matthews, Marner and Mark Giordano for load management. Across the three games, the territorial play was close, with the Leafs holding the 5-on-5 expected goal edge at 52.77 percent.

Top Five Scorers


Mitch Marner, 99 points
William Nylander, 86 points
Auston Matthews, 85 points
John Tavares, 80 points
Michael Bunting, 49 points

Tampa Bay

Nikita Kucherov, 112 points
Brayden Point, 92 points
Steven Stamkos, 84 points
Brandon Hagel, 62 points
Alex Killorn, 62 points


The Leafs, armed with an enviable collection of scorers, have been a consistently dominant power-play team since Spencer Carbery arrived as an assistant coach starting in 2021-22. Toronto had a league-best 27.2 percent mark last season and sits second in the NHL this season at 26.1 percent. That’s the regular season, though. Last year against the Lightning, the Leafs’ power play flatlined at 14.3 percent during their seven-game playoff defeat, going an embarrassing 4 for 24. It had no answer for penalty killers Nick Paul, Anthony Cirelli, Erik Cernak and Ryan McDonagh. Might the Leafs have an easier time with McDonagh out of the picture? They have to take advantage of a Bolts team that once again is among the league’s least disciplined, ranking second in penalties taken per 60 minutes this season.


The Leafs have consistently been an elite offensive team during the Auston Matthews/Mitch Marner era. This season, they have been something closer to “merely good,” tied for eighth in goals per game. While they continue to cash in on the power play, at 5-on-5, they sit top-10 in metrics like expected goals for, shots per 60, scoring chances per 60 and high-danger chances per 60 without ranking top-three in any of those categories. While Matthews, hampered by a hand injury for much of this season, hasn’t been the superstar who scored 60 goals last season, Mitch Marner and William Nylander have made up for it with career years, especially Marner, whose elite two-way game warrants down-ballot Hart Trophy votes. Captain John Tavares, who looked over the hill last spring, reminded us that he’s 32, not 42, and has been a point-per-game player.

The Leafs’ scoring depth is respectable. Agitator Michael Bunting has cleared 20 goals again, and 11 players on their active roster have reached 10 goals – but no Leaf blueliner has even eclipsed five goals. Offense from the defense has been subpar for Toronto in 2022-23.

As for the Bolts: they’re stride for stride with the Leafs, having scored the exact same number of goals (275) in the same number of games and sitting just behind them in power-play efficiency, fourth in the league at 25.2 percent. It almost feels like we’ve come to take the Lightning’s excellence for granted, haven’t we? Nikita Kucherov’s 112 points and Brayden Point’s 49 goals have to be two of the most overlooked individual performances in recent memory. Meanwhile, Brandon Hagel has broken out for a career year on Tampa’s top line with them, notching 29 goals and 62 points. The Bolts have five different players with at least 25 goals this season, including Steven Stamkos, who has delivered another largely healthy season. They get plenty of offense from their back end with Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev driving the play.

Scariest of all: the Bolts, despite losing pieces of their championship core every year, remain a deep and well-rounded group. Even the bottom six boasts threats like Anthony Cirelli, Ross Colton and Corey Perry. Every single line can hurt you.


The Leafs underwent a distinct shift from a chance-trading circus to a team that took care of its own end fairly well beginning in 2020-21, when T.J. Brodie joined the D-corps with his quietly effective shutdown game. For much of this season, the Leafs profiled once again as an above-average defensive group. Then came a major speed wobble following the Trade Deadline, in which Dubas overhauled the blueline, shipping out Rasmus Sandin while adding Jake McCabe, Luke Schenn and Erik Gustafsson, giving the Leafs nine NHL defensemen.

The Leafs experimented with the group in March, giving Brodie and Rielly the occasional night off for load management and often starting seven defensemen, drastically reducing everyone’s ice time. Coach Sheldon Keefe couldn’t seem to find the right chemistry in March, with the Leafs tumbling to an alarming 24th in 5-on-5 expected goals against per 60. But has something clicked? In April, the Leafs are ninth in xGA/60 and have the third-best expected goal share in the league at 5-on-5. Is it the product of a relatively weak schedule that has included games against Detroit, Columbus and Montreal, or is the load management paying off? Time will tell.

The Lightning, meanwhile, remain a reasonably sturdy defensive group, with Cernak and Ian Cole doing nice shutdown work and Anthony Cirelli functioning as the top defensive forward. They sit in the top half of the NHL in most important 5-on-5 defensive metrics. That said: they graded out slightly below average in play driving since the start of March. Their penalty kill has been mediocre for the year and will need to elevate like it did last spring given their tendency to land in the sin bin.

The Bolts are a physical group, ranking seventh in the NHL in hits per 60. Even though the Leafs have added guys who can answer the bell like Schenn, McCabe and Noel Acciari, Tampa will have the edge in the brawn department, with an average player weight 10 pounds higher than the average Leaf. The question is whether the Bolts’ heavier defenders can still keep up with the Leafs’ team speed. McDonagh’s skating in a top-four shutdown role is missed.


Goaltending was everything in the first-round matchup last season. The Leafs had the Bolts almost dead to rights in Game 6, but future Hall of Famer Andrei Vasilevskiy kept them alive through the overtime and helped them get to Game 7. He’s the best big-game goalie on the planet, and he simply outduelled Campbell. Can ‘Vasy’ do the same opposite Ilya Samsonov? You simply can never bet against Vasilevskiy, who has almost been untouchable since the 2019-20 playoff run began. He has seven shutouts over the past three postseasons, including six in series-clinching games. The Bolts have an advantage over any opponent they face in net. Period.

Do the Leafs have a superior option to Campbell this time around, however? Samsonov has been a top-10 goalie in the NHL this season, his first in a Maple Leafs sweater after they scooped the former top prospect off the scrap heap when the Washington Capitals chose not to qualify him last summer. Among 55 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes played this season, Samsonov sits ninth in goals saved above average per 60. He has posted a save percentage of .913 or higher in every month except March. He’s been a consistent safety net for Toronto and has done so with the breezy confidence any team wants in a playoff goaltender. That said: Samsonov has only seven career starts and a 1-6-0 record in the playoffs. He’s largely unproven and has been nursing some sort of nagging injury over the past few weeks. Whatever the malady is, it’s bad enough that the Leafs have decided to rest him until the playoffs.

If Samsonov falters: it’s looking less likely by the day that Toronto can count on two-time Cup winner Matt Murray, currently on the shelf with his third injury of the season. He’s been inconsistent when healthy, too. Prospect Joseph Woll has shown quite well in limited NHL duty and might be the superior backup option even to a healthy Murray at the moment.


Was Tanner Jeannot worth the five draft picks Tampa traded for him? We may not have the answer for a while, as the heavy-hitting bottom six forward is out with a lower-body injury that is expected to cost him at least the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Leafs’ injury report has been difficult to decipher, as they have masqueraded what might simply be load management with minor injury designations (Calle Jarnkrok, Sam Lafferty, etc.). Defenseman Jake Muzzin (neck) and left winger Nick Robertson (shoulder) were lost to season-ending injuries months ago. Murray’s head injury has an unpredictable recovery timeline; it doesn’t bode well that he has not joined Toronto on its season-ending road trip, however.


The Leafs have built teams with their head, not their heart, in the Dubas era, with consistently great regular season results. This time around, they sent a message that they were prioritizing intangible success when they added three Stanley Cup rings: one from 2018-19 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan O’Reilly and two from Schenn, who played on Tampa’s back-to-back championship teams in 2020 and 2021. The skill has never been in question, but do these Leafs finally have the grit to get that extra goal in that clutch situation? Amazingly, the Leafs have had three overtimes in the past two postseasons in which they were a goal away from advancing to Round 2. They lost all three times.

On Tampa’s end: how many more years can we see them grind through the postseason, how many more shortened offseason training regimens, until they finally break down? I asked the same question last year. Now they have four more rounds of playoff mileage. No NHL player on Earth has logged more minutes over the regular season and playoffs than Hedman since 2019-20. It feels like the party has to end at some point. On the other hand: the Bolts’ ability to persevere with the gas tank empty is what makes them great. They made it to the Final last year despite losing Point for multiple rounds after his injury in Round 1 against Toronto.

Series prediction

Flip a coin, again. For the second straight season, the Leafs look like the slightly superior team on paper and had the stronger regular season to show for it. But the choke narrative will remain lodged in the Leafs’ collective brain until they kick it, and they once again match up against decade’s most clutch team. The Lightning’s scoring depth at forward could give the Leafs fits again. Bet on a series as tightly contested as last season’s. At this point, after their six straight opening-round defeats, I have to pick the Leafs’ opponent until they prove me wrong.

Lightning in seven games.



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Pressure mounts on both sides as Stars and Golden Knights prepare for Game 6 –



Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Adin Hill (33) stands with his team during open net at the end of the third period in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference finals against the Dallas Stars, Saturday, May 27, 2023, in Las Vegas. (Ronda Churchill/AP)

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IIHF Hockey: Canada downs Germany 5-2 – CTV News



TAMPERE, Finland –

Samuel Blais scored two goals to rally Canada to a 5-2 victory over Germany in the final of the ice hockey world championship on Sunday.

It’s a record 28th world title for Canada, and its second in three years. Russia has 27 while Germany has never won the trophy.


Blais netted with a backhand 4:51 into the final period for a 3-2 lead for Canada, which was playing in its fourth straight final.

Lawson Crouse, Tylor Toffoli and Scott Laughton also scored for Canada, Peyton Krebs had two assists and goaltender Samuel Montembeault stopped 21 shots.

Toffoli stretched the lead to 4-2 from the left circle with 8:09 remaining and Laughton made it 5-2 with an empty net goal.

Canada had to come back twice in the final.

John Peterka wristed a shot past Montembeault from the left circle 7:44 into the game. It was the sixth goal for the Buffalo Sabres forward at the tournament.

Blais was fed by Krebs to beat goaltender Mathias Niederberger and tie it 1-1 at 10:47.

Daniel Fischbuch put the Germans ahead again with a one-timer with 6:13 to go in the middle period.

Crouse equalized on a power play with 2:32 remaining in the frame.

It was the first medal for Germany since 1953 when it was second behind Sweden.

The two previously met just once in the final with Canada winning 6-1 in 1930.


Defenseman Kristian Rubins scored his second goal 1:22 into overtime to lead Latvia to a 4-3 victory over the United States and earn a bronze medal earlier Sunday.

It’s the first top-three finish for Latvia at the tournament. Its previous best was a seventh place it managed three times.

The U.S. lost in the bronze medal game for the second straight year. The U.S. team was cruising through the tournament with eight straight wins until it was defeated by Germany in the semifinal 4-3 in overtime.

Rubins rallied Latvia with his first with 5:39 to go in the final period to tie the game at 3 to force overtime.

Roberts Bukarts and Janis Jaks also scored for Latvia.

Rocco Grimaldi scored twice for the U.S. in the opening period to negate Latvia’s 1-0 and 2-1 leads.

Matt Coronato had put the U.S. 3-2 ahead 6:19 into the final period.

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Hockey: Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin, Laura Stacey engaged



Consider celebrated hockey players Marie-Philip Poulin and Laura Stacey teammates for life.

The Team Canada stars have announced their engagement on social media, with a photo on Poulin’s verified Instagram account showing the smiling couple on a beach as Stacey brandishes a ring on her right hand.

The accompanying caption is decorated with heart and ring emojis and declares: “She said OUI.”

Fellow Olympic hockey players Brianne Jenner, Jill Saulnier, Natalie Spooner, Rebecca Johnston and Cheryl Pounder were among those to offer congratulations from their verified Instagram accounts.


Poulin, the 32-year-old team captain, and 29-year-old Stacey were among the Canadian athletes to capture silver at the recent IIHF Women’s World Championship.

They also played together on Team Canada to win gold at the Beijing Games in 2022 and silver at the PyeongChang Games in 2018.

Poulin also represented Canada at the 2014 Sochi Games and the 2010 Vancouver Games.

“So … this happened,” Poulin says on the Instagram post, dated Friday.

“Best question I ever asked …. She said OUI.”

“Couldn’t be happier for you both! What an exciting chapter,” champion figure skater Tessa Virtue replied from her verified account @tessavirtue17.

“Already started stretching for this dance floor!” Saulnier said from her account, dubbed jill.saulnier.

“Power couple,” Jenner posted from bjenner19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2023.



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