On paper, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning are closely matched.
However, there was nothing close about Game 1.
Auston Matthews scored twice, Mitch Marner found the scoresheet and the Maple Leafs cruised to a 5-0 win against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.
The game could have gone sideways fast for the Maple Leafs. Veteran Kyle Clifford received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding early in the first period.
Although the Lightning had a five-minute power play, it was the Leafs who ended up with more chances while shorthanded.
That seemingly swung momentum in their favour, and they were finally rewarded late in the first period when Jake Muzzin scored Toronto’s first goal of the postseason.
The first goal of the #StanleyCup Playoffs belongs to Jake Muzzin! 🚨
— NHL (@NHL) May 3, 2022
After that, Toronto’s stars took over.
The Lightning got into a little penalty trouble of their own in the second period, and Matthews was able to capitalize on a 5-on-3 to give Toronto a 2-0 lead.
— NHL (@NHL) May 3, 2022
With Marner also finding the back of the net, it was the first time that both he and Matthews scored in the same postseason game for Toronto.
After scoring twice on the night, Matthews gave praise to both the Leafs’ penalty kill and goaltending.
“We just played fast and, you know, played through the contact and a long five-minute penalty kill there,” Matthews told reporters after the game.
“Our PK was huge tonight and that brought up a lot of momentum. Soupy [Jack Campbell] was huge tonight.”
Sheldon Keefe was similarly thrilled with the way his team held it together despite facing some adversity early.
“Our team seemed to be unflappable tonight,” He said during his post-game media availability.
“Early kill? No problem. Five-minute kill? No problem.
“All the way throughout, our team was extremely focused and just went out and executed.”
Penalties galore in Game 1
Who would have predicted that two of the fastest and most skilled teams in hockey would combine for more than 100 penalty minutes in Game 1?
Clifford set the tone early with his boarding major on Lightning forward Ross Colton, but the parade to the penalty box continued throughout the contest.
In total, the Leafs and Lightning combined for 12 power plays, although Matthews’ first goal was the only man-advantage marker of the game.
Tampa in particular did nothing with their man advantage. Although they threatened with a couple of opportunities in the second period, they gave up four shorthanded scoring chances on the night, including Kampf’s breakaway goal.
Solo Kamping trip 🏕 pic.twitter.com/BOYvKV1jjz
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) May 3, 2022
The penalty parade culminated midway through the third period when the Leafs and Lightning got into a full-on line brawl.
Line brawl during the commercial break. pic.twitter.com/uA83uOlOrC
— alberto (@twistedleafs) May 3, 2022
In total, there were 102 minutes in penalties handed out on the night, 73 of which came during that third-period scrum.
Campbell continues playoff excellence
The regular season was a roller coaster for Jack Campbell. He was a serious Vezina candidate with a .939 save percentage in his first 25 games, but faltered in the second half with an .888 SV% over his last 24 contests.
Against Tampa on Monday night however, he was perfect.
Campbell didn’t have to make a ton of ridiculous saves, but he was steady in his 24-save shutout performance for the Leafs.
JACK CAMPBELL pic.twitter.com/M27vF9TKGR
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) May 3, 2022
Through eight career playoff games, the 30-year-old netminder has a middling 4-4 record but sports a sparkling .941 save percentage.
Keefe defends decision to dress Clifford
One of the intriguing storylines heading into Game 1 was Keefe’s decision to sit veteran Jason Spezza in favour for Clifford.
Spezza was arguably too quiet in the second half of the season, although the 38-year-old did have two goals and four points in his last five games to close the regular season.
The decision to sit Spezza was even more puzzling after Clifford got booted from the contest less than 10 minutes in.
The only thing dumber than that penalty by Clifford was him playing instead of Spezza
— Ryan Whitney (@ryanwhitney6) May 2, 2022
Just took a few minutes for the Spezza scratch to look abysmal. You just can't trust Clifford. It's been an issue all season.
— Alex Seixeiro (@AlexSeixeiro) May 2, 2022
After the game, Keefe defended his lineup decision.
“I want Cliff in because of his physicality and what he brings. He made a poor decision in that instance, but when I look back at the last 20 games, when I look at our fourth line, our fourth line has been best when Kyle Clifford is in the lineup.
“He stepped over the line today and paid for it, but the reason I made the decision is part physicality, but it’s more so because of the heavy skates and how he defends.”
Maple Leafs know “it’s just one night”
Not many predicted that the Leafs would blow out the Lightning in Game 1.
You can bet that even fewer are predicting a short series.
Keefe said as much during the post-game press conference.
“Well it was a funky game, right? There was so much special teams, I don’t even know how we’re going to process this one.
“It’s not an indication of how the series is going to go. It’s going to be a much different feel the rest of the way.
“It’s just one night. The Tampa Bay Lightning are going to be a far better team when they come back in here.”
Tampa Bay hasn’t lost a playoff series since their shocking sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets back in 2019.
Since then, they’ve won eight straight series and two Stanley Cups.