For the first time since April 21st, 2019 the Toronto Maple Leafs finally played host to a playoff game at the Scotiabank Arena infront of a sold out crowd as they opened their 2022 playoffs against the reigning back to back Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Right from the start of the broadcast, viewers in the arena and watching at home could feel an intensity so electric that when the rendition of “O Canada” came on the roof nearly popped off the arena.
Playoff hockey was back in Toronto again and for the first time since 2004 the Leafs would be able to enjoy and relish in the opportunity with home ice advantage and did that come in quite handy for the Leafs almost immediately.
Just seven minutes into the game and the Leafs found themselves shorthanded for the second time, after TJ Brodie took a hooking call that was killed off and Kyle Clifford received a five minute major plus a game misconduct for a gruesome hit on Lightning forward Ross Colton.
Colton would remain in the game, but was clearly shaken up on the play.
On the ensuing penalty kill, the Leafs would make sure Tampa would not be able to set up their lethal power play that easy, breaking up plays in the neutral zone and in their defensive zone all the while also creating shorthanded chances of their own as the energy and noise in the Scotiabank Arena reached deafening levels.
The noise reached a fever pitch with just under two minutes to go in the frame as the Leafs mounting pressure finally found its release as Ondrej Kase, who missed the Leafs last 20 games of the season, won a puck battle in the corner and sent it to Jake Muzzin at the blueline.
Muzzin, who had time to set up a shot as Ilya Mikayhev worked his way to the front of Lightning goaltender Andrei Vaseilevsky, wired a lethal slapshot through traffic and under the glove of the goaltender for the first goal of the 2022 playoffs.
For Muzzin it was his first postseason goal since he had goals in back to back games five and six against the Montreal Canadiens during last seasons playoffs before he was injured during the latter game and was unable to finish out the series.
Toronto would build on their growing momentum in the second period as they had a five on three opportunity after both Mikhail Sergachev and Jan Rutta were sent to the box just over six minutes into the frame.
On the ensuing power play, the Maple Leafs leading goalscorer would smash open his playoff goal account this season with a wicked one time shot after a nifty feed from his lineman Mitch Marner.
Toronto would than face penalty trouble midway through the period, but their lockdown penalty killing unit would brush out any fires the Lightning were trying to start and in turn the Leafs were rewarded for their efforts.
David Kampf was sprung forward with a shorthanded chance on a breakaway as he burnt former Norris defenceman Victor Hedman for pace and placed a shot just under Vasilevskiy’s blocker to give the Leafs a 3-0 lead.
Much maligned star and scapegoat forward Mitch Marner would have himself quite a game and no play was more relieving for him as he recieved a pass from a streaking Morgan Rielly and as the Leafs forwards crashed the net, Vasilevskiy was left sprawling and out of his crease as Marner outlasted everyone and cashing in for his first playoff goal since April 11, 2019 an 18 game long stretch.
With the Leafs in full control heading into the third period and Tampa Bay looking disinterested for most of the game.
Auston Matthews would take advantage of a gift after a bad bounce from a Kase dump-in would gift the superstar forward an open net with the Lightning goaltender out of position as Matthews would surpass his playoff totals from last season in one game.
Midway through the final frame Wayne Simmonds would lay a heavy hit to Jan Rutta in the Lightning zone and after some jawing from Corey Perry and Patrick Maroon, all hell would break loose as the teams would have a line brawl.
As a result the teams would rack up 74 penalty minutes as six players would be thrown out of the game and the Leafs would end up with an advantageous four minute power play which they used to weed out any hopes that Tampa would have to get back into the game.
As a result the Leafs would rout the Lightning 5-0 as they earn their first series opening home win since 2002 and lead the series by 1-0.
After the win Maple Leafs head coach had this to say about the atmosphere at the Scotiabank Arena last night.
Clifford is having a hearing with the Department of Player Safety on Tuesday, and it is expected he will miss some time. Keefe said that he feels that “the fourth line is at best when Kyle Clifford has been apart of it” and that he doesn’t regret the decision to put him in the lineup despite the game misconduct.
Game Two from Toronto takes place on Wednesday.