For the second straight year, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning will meet in the Eastern Conference first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last year the Lightning won Game 6 in overtime and Game 7 on the road to rally from a 3-2 series deficit en route to their third consecutive Prince of Wales trophy. Toronto has not won a playoff series since 2004 (0-7).
2023 NHL Playoffs: Maple Leafs vs. Lightning prediction
The Lightning have a tendency to sandbag in the final games of the season, so their poor finish shouldn’t raise any alarms. What could be a deciding factor is an injury to forward Tanner Jeannot (lower body). The big forward was going to have a major role in the series on the Lightning’s forechecking line that they use to set the pace of the game. Toronto decided to make some moves at the trade deadline to get more physical, that includes bringing in center Ryan O’Reilly and defenseman Luke Schenn. Both players bring a ton of grit and playoff experience.
The Maple Leafs will have an edge in skill with forwards Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and John Tavares still playing at an elite level. The Lightning counter with Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point. Both sides will be searching for secondary scoring and the Lightning are hoping Brandon Hagel will fill that role. Toronto has arguably the NHL’s best power play outside of Edmonton.
One area where the Lightning have a huge advantage, and this could be the difference, is in goal where Andrei Vasilevskiy is a proven big-game performer and former Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Toronto is going to start the playoffs with Ilya Samsonov, but if he struggles out the gate it could force coach Sheldon Keefe to make a tough decision. Backup Matt Murray has been dealing with a concussion and might not be ready. Top AHL goalie Joseph Woll is ready for the NHL and had 46 saves against the Lightning in their final regular-season matchup. One things Keefe will not be afraid to make the move if that’s what it takes to win.
DraftKings Sportsbook gives the Maple Leafs a slight edge at -150. The Lightning are +130 underdogs.
Prediction: Maple Leafs in six games