Momentum Will Dictate Maple Leafs/Lightning Series

Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs

The word “momentum” seems to be one of the most argued about and controversial terms used in the sport of hockey. Some experts insist it’s a mythical creature that simply doesn’t exist. To others, it’s the most important factor in deciding wins and losses.  

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It does appear to exist in the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning first-round series of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Each game has been decisively decided by relatively short spans of time where one team gains momentum and dominates the other.

The Maple Leafs and Lightning Series Is Close Despite the Blowouts

On the one hand, the series is extremely close, presently tied at 2-2 heading into a fifth game in Toronto on Tuesday night. On the other hand, the scores would seem to indicate each game has been a one-sided rout by the team that won.  

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs Mitchell Marner and Auston Matthews are leading their team’s scoring this postseason (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

In the two games the Maple Leafs have won, they’ve outscored the Lightning 10-2. In the games the Lightning has won, they’ve outscored the Maple Leafs 12-6.  

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If we break down the games even further, we see that each team has had relatively short periods of time when they’ve dominated; and, during those short spans, they’ve scored numerous consecutive goals. It’s either one way or the other.

Momentum In Game #1

After taking a 1-0 into the locker room at the end of the first period, the Maple Leafs came out in the second period and scored three goals in ten minutes and 27 seconds. That put Game 1 out of reach.

Momentum In Game #2

Tampa Bay opened the scoring with less than three seconds left in the first period. They then added three goals in seven minutes and 36 seconds of the second period to take over the game. 

Momentum In Game #3

The Maple Leafs scored two goals in four minutes and 50 seconds of the first period and then added a goal at 5:52 of the second period.  

Momentum In Game #4

By the time this game was eight minutes old, Tampa Bay had a 3-0 lead. They then added two more goals in two minutes and eight seconds in the second period. 

Overviewing the Momentum of This Series

Of the 30 total goals that have been scored in the 240 minutes of hockey played after the first four games of this series, 12 of those goals have been scored in less than 30 minutes of hockey. Put another way, over 30 percent of the scoring in the series has been done in 10 percent of the playing time.

For the Maple Leafs, both Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have six points. Both have scored two goals and added four assists. For the Lightning, both Victor Hedman has six points and Nikita Kucherov has five points. Each has scored a goal. So it isn’t as if the key players on each team are running away with the scoring. The scoring is coming from everywhere and everyone. And, it’s coming in bunches.

Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Auston Matthews and William Nylander have both scored twice this series
(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

We can honestly say we’ve not seen streak scoring like this for many postseasons. Playoff games in the NHL are not usually one-sided affairs. Most games in the recent history of the NHL playoffs are close games decided by one or two goals, with a number of the two-goal wins being a result of a team scoring an empty-net goal late in the game. 

It’s Not Just This Series, a Similar Phenomenon Is Happening During Round One

That doesn’t seem to be the case this season. Not only have three of the four games in this series been decided by three or more goals; but, of the 28 total games played in this year’s playoffs, 19 of them have been won by three or more goals, while five of them have been decided by two goals, and only four games have been decided by a single goal.  

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell has had two great games and two poor games this postseason.
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Eighteen times during this postseason the team winning a game has scored five or more goals. The Edmonton Oilers scored eight goals in a win over Los Angeles. The Lightning, Colorado Avalanche, and Pittsburgh Penguins have all scored seven goals in a game during the postseason. 

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Whatever the reason for the high-scoring one-sided games, they’re not doing the NHL fans any favors. While we’re sure the fans of the winning teams in each of those games enjoy it, it generally doesn’t make for exciting hockey. However, for this series, if it continues as it’s going, look for the team that carries the momentum for a short time in each game to prevail.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]

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