The Toronto Maple Leafs will host the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is the second straight year these two teams will meet in the first round of the postseason, the Maple Leafs maintaining home-ice advantage again. Last year’s series was decided in Game 7 by one goal, Tampa Bay skating by 2-1. We’ll see if the Leafs can exorcise their demons and advance past the first round for the first time since 2004.
The Maple Leafs have made the playoffs in seven straight seasons mostly with the core of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares. That group now has Ryan O’Reilly, Michael Bunting, Jake McCade and Erik Gustafsson. ROR could be the X-Factor, a former Conn Smythe winner with the Blues back in 2019.
It feels like things will almost always come down to goaltending with the Leafs; can Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray be the group to get over the hump? Murray may not be 100% for the playoffs, so it’ll be up to Samsonov to prove he can win a playoff series. Samsonov has dealt with injuries himself but went 26-10-5 with a 2.36 GAA and .917 SV% this season.
The Bolts had a down season by their standards. While Tampa Bay remains one of the top-10 offensive teams in the NHL, defense has been a big issue. The Lightning are middle-of-the-pack in both goals allowed per game and penalty killing. After leading the NHL in wins the past five seasons, Andrei Vasilevskiy’s streak will end in 2022-23. He’s also on pace for a career-high 2.63 GAA.
Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point had career seasons. Kucherov should be a Hart Trophy finalist. Point finishes with a career-high 49 goals on the season. The Lightning did most of their damage on the power play, finishing third in the NHL at 25.9 percent. Ahead of them? The Leafs in second. Special teams and goaltending should decide another series between the two teams.
2023 NHL Playoffs: Maple Leafs vs. Lightning schedule
Game 1: Lightning @ Maple Leafs, Tuesday, April 18, 7:30 p.m. ET ESPN
Game 2: Lightning @ Maple Leafs, Thursday, April 20, 7 p.m. ET ESPN
Game 3: Maple Leafs @ Lightning, Saturday, April 22, 7 p.m. ET TBS
Game 4: Maple Leafs @ Lightning, Monday, April 24, 7 p.m. ET, TBD
Game 5: Lightning @ Maple Leafs, Thursday, April 27, TBD
Game 6: Maple Leafs @ Lightning, Saturday, April 29, TBD
Game 7: Lightning @ Maple Leafs, Monday, May 1, TBD