The first round in the 2022 NHL playoffs includes a matchup between the reigning back-to-back Stanley Cup champions and the team with the longest championship drought in the league.
The Lightning and the Maple Leafs will square off in one of the four Eastern Conference series to begin the playoffs. The teams finished in the top eight in the league but were the second- and third-place teams in the Atlantic Division.
Toronto enjoyed another successful regular season. Auston Matthews had a sensational campaign, setting a franchise record for goals in a season and becoming only the third player in the last 20 years to hit 60 goals in a season. Mitch Marner and William Nylander set career highs in points with 97 and 78, respectively. Their power play was No. 1 in the league.
Of course, nothing matters with the Maple Leafs until the postseason, where the franchise has not won a playoff series since 2004. And their first-round matchup this year is no cakewalk.
Tampa Bay is aiming to become the first team since the Islanders in the early ’80s to three-peat. The Lightning weren’t their usual dominant selves in the regular season, but they still put up 110 points. Steven Stamkos had a career resurgence, potting over 100 points for the first time in his career.
This has the makings of one of the most exciting first-round series. It begins Monday, May 2.
Here’s what you need to know about the series between the Maple Leafs and Lightning.
Key storyline: Is this finally the year the Maple Leafs get past the first round?
This is, by far, the biggest storyline of this series and likely of the entire first round.
The first round has been the Achilles heel of the Maple Leafs franchise for the last 22 years. There have been dramatic collapses, like Game 7 against the Bruins in 2011 and the 3-1 blown series lead last year against the Canadians. If there is a way to lose, the Leafs probably have found a way to do it.
Not only that, but the team hasn’t lifted the Stanley Cup since 1967, when the league still had six teams. It’s one thing to lose in the playoffs, but at least some recent rings would make up for that. Toronto and “postseason success” have not mixed in quite some time.
If the Maple Leafs don’t make it out of the first round this year, major changes might take place. The team has a ton of pressure heading into the playoffs, and rightfully so.
Maple Leafs Vs. Lightning schedule, TV channels
(All times Eastern)
|Mon., May 2||at Toronto||7:30 pm||Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports, ESPN2|
|Wed., May 4||at Toronto||7:30 pm||Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports, ESPN2|
|Fri., May 6||at Tampa Bay||7:30 pm||TBS, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports|
|Sun., May 8||at Tampa Bay||7:30 pm||TBS, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports|
|* Tue., May 10||at Toronto||TBD||TBD|
|* Thu., May 12||at Tampa Bay||TBD||TBD|
|* Sat., May 14||at Toronto||TBD||TBD|
* If necessary
Maple Leafs Vs. Lightning odds
Maple Leafs: -130
Odds provided by Sports Interaction
Maple Leafs Vs. Lightning prediction
This Maple Leafs team feels different. Matthews is having an unreal season, the goaltending question seems to have been solved for the time being. There isn’t pressure to easily walk through the first two rounds like in 2021.
That said, this is a tough matchup for Toronto. The Lightning may not have been as dominant in the regular season as they were the previous two seasons, but they are still the reigning back-to-back champions. They know what it takes to win and have a goaltender with a sensational playoff resume in Andrei Vasilevskiy.
At the end of the day, Toronto is still wearing the Maple Leaf on the front of the jersey. I don’t know what they did to deserve this kind of continuous postseason failure, but I don’t think this is the Leafs’ season. The Lightning have the playoff success; the Maple Leafs don’t.
Prediction: Lightning in seven.