In a playoff series, especially one between two very good teams which the Lightning and Maple Leafs are, you expect some swings. No one expected a short series, which means twists and turns as teams exchange wins. Momentum generally swings on the performance level of your goalie the next night, but hockey things can stick a little more than they can in say, baseball, where the next starting pitcher determines everything (or it did before the age of the reliever). Teams find a weakness, a defenseman whose side they want to enter the zone from or a way to move the goalie more often or such. And that may still yet happen in this first-round series.
But for two teams that feel pretty evenly matched, the Leafs and Lightning haven’t just matched wins. They’ve matched blowouts. Through four games, they’ve taken turns waylaying each other. The Leafs opened the series by winning 5-0. The Lightning returned the favor in Game 2 5-3, but were up 5-0 at one point. The Leafs flew down to Tampa and took Game 3 5-2. And then the Lightning last night put up a touchdown with a PAT in a 7-3 win. Rarely if ever do you see teams capable of stuffing the other one into a trash can one night and then be completely destroyed the next, let alone twice for each.
The underlying numbers suggest that the Lightning mostly have had the upperhand, getting the advantage in shot-attempts in all four games. But the expected goals share has swung to whatever team won in the four games, suggesting the Leafs are matching the Lightning in chances. They’re just doing it in every other game.
It’s too easy to suggest that Jack Campbell isn’t good enough to win four games out of seven against the defending champs. And he’s been sliced through twice. But Andrei Vasilevskiy hasn’t been himself either, getting pilfered twice. It could be that these offenses are just too high-octane to be kept under wraps for more than one game at a time.
Fatigue could be playing a role. We already looked at how scoring rose in the second half of the season, and speculated that the fatigue of yet another COVID season with a packed schedule was wearing away the will to play defense. Throw in the fact the Lightning have played the maximum number of rounds the past two years and they may simply not have the gumption to put it together for more than every other game. That won’t do them much good in this series, considering they’ve been only answering the Leafs to tie the series. Each game has featured at least one team getting at least five power plays, suggesting someone is dragging ass every night.
The increased scoring could be combining with the fatigue levels as well. It’s easier for teams to get up two or three goals this season, forcing the opponent to open up, making it easier to pile on the lead. Secondly, fatigue would make it harder for teams to find the charge to fight back from multiple goals down.
It’s not just the Leafs and Lightning either:
While we certainly enjoy the greater scoring, the league would probably prefer a few more close games. They’ll probably get them as the playoffs continue and the teams are stepping on their tongues even more than they already are.
Sticking with the NHL playoffs, it’s rare that we’re all behind Brad Marchand. But in the “The Worst Person You Know Just Made A Great Point” category:
We don’t know for sure, and Marchand isn’t saying, but it sure looks like he’s calling Carolina’s Tony DeAngelo a racist, which he just happens to be. Also a moron. Watch the NHL fine Marchand for bringing to light that one of its players is a bridge troll, as it can’t have that getting in the open, the league doesn’t want to insult the fanbase it’s been terrified of for decades.
We’ll end with this work of art from Chelsea’s Sam Kerr, which clinched a 4-2 win for Chelsea of over Man United, a win which clinched the WSL title for Chelsea:
Of course, that was only Kerr’s second thunderbastard of the day:
Not a bad day’s work.