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Posted at 3:30 PM EST.
Toronto -½ +130
Eastern Conference Quarterfinal - Game 1
7:35 PM EST. If you were in a playoff draft or two on the weekend, you probably heard something like this again and again, “Ah crap, I’m going to regret this, but I’ll take Matthews.” “I can’t believe I’m doing this, but gimme Mitchell Marner.” “Good Lord, am I really all in on Toronto? I’ll take that statue, Tavares and Morgan Reilly, too.” We know that was what we heard before every Maple Leaf was chosen across a few pools. They say perception is reality and we have to agree. If the market does not trust Toronto because of its postseason failures both recent and of the 1967 variety, who are we to argue?
Over the last week or so, when it became apparent that the Lightning could potentially play the Leafs, our first thought was similar to the sentiments you are hearing in advance of Game 1. The Bolts are being disrespected, they are back-to-back champs and they have a major edge in net. One of those three points is a fact, and one that we’ll dump on. Yes, these Lightning are two time defending Stanley Cup champions. However, their first run was a COVID fuelled TV cash grab. Hang the banner, we’d do it too, but don’t act like it was a “real” Cup run. Last year? We’ll just call the salary cap cheating what it was, cheating. Just tack on another asterix and move on.
When you win like the Bolts have, you lose some important cogs. Maybe not the high profile, highest paid members of the team, although they are the ones that reap the spoils of success, but the grinders, the gritty gamers and the players you love to hate. Blake Coleman is with the Flames, Yanni Gourde went west to Seattle and Barclay Goodrow is now on Broadway with the Rangers. That line was the dirt under the fingernails of those two Cup runs. Tampa has tried to replace them and it looks good on paper, as if it were 2017. Joining Patty Maroon were offseason acquisitions, Edouard Bellemare and Corey Perry. Bellemare is 37, Perry, 36, and Maroon, 34. We can’t take away that they were surprisingly the second best line 5-on-5 in the NHL this year, but that doesn’t mean we have to have anything to do with a team that is going to lean hard on a line that is starting its postseason journey with a combined age of 107. You can take that experience, stick it in your pipe and smoke it till the ghosts of ‘67 come home to roost.
There probably isn’t much we can say that will change one’s mind if one is convinced the Maple Leafs are cursed, but we’ll take our shot. Let’s start with the perceived Saskachewewan wide gap that apparently exists between Andrei Vasilevskiy and Jack Campbell. When looking at their current form (last two weeks of the season), Campbell actually sits ahead of Vasivelskiy in save percentage (.958-to-.929). Don’t get us wrong, as we are not suggesting for a second that Campbell is better. Vasivleskiy is a money goaltender while Campbell will have the weight of the Maple Leafs past ghosts on his shoulder but we do not care. We’ll take those ghosts and apply it to the public’s reluctance to get behind the Leafs to offer us a discount on them. The Maple Leafs have made all the right moves and are now the deeper, more talented group with a better defense.
The Bolts were playing catchup over the last two weeks and it’s not because they shut it down. They played their asses off until the bitter end to ensure they did not finish in a Wild Card spot. Tampa could have laid off, got some rest and got ready for Carolina. Instead, the Lightning did everything possible to play Toronto including playing every player in the final game of the year against the Islanders. We’ve barely touched on the Leafs outside of Campbell, but that’s OK, we’ll save some fodder for another day. Besides, the Maple Leafs don’t need any intros. If Toronto loses this game tonight, we’re sticking with it and coming right back on the Maple Leafs in Game 2.
Toronto -½ +130 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.60)