Before we get to the Battle of Florida, a word about the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This season has always been shaping up to be the Florida and Leafs at the top of the Atlantic, three of the eight best records in the entire NHL, at least one of them going out in the first round of the playoffs.
It was hard to sting on one of them. The current match format ensures that.
‘It can happen at any time.’ ‘It’s unfortunate that such a good team came out so early,’ GM Panthers Bill Zito said on Sunday. ‘You just don’t want it to be you, do you?’
Lightning captain Stephen Stamkos was asked Saturday night after Game Seven about the Panthers playing next. Sit back and think about how difficult this season has been.
“I mean, our division has been crazy this year,” Stamkos said. “I beat a team like Toronto who was one of the top five in the league and then got the top team of the regular season now in the second round. It’s a shame these teams are going out early but that’s how it’s set up. We know what it’s going to be. It’s going to be a series of soap operas.”
Lightning head coach John Cooper extended the range, noting that all eight teams in the Eastern Conference have earned more than 100 points this season. Four of them were to be thrown.
“Luckily for us, we weren’t one of them. ‘It took everything to get these guys out,'” Cooper said on Saturday, looking a lot like the guy who went 12 rounds in a heavyweight match.
Imagine you Zito, who was sitting there Saturday night watching Game Seven in Tampa and Toronto, thinking about what was right around the corner.
lightning or leaves; Choose a poison, right?
Zito said of what he had in mind while watching Lightning-Leafs Game 7. “There are countless ideas, frankly. A lot of people have asked beforehand, ‘Who do you want to play?’” “I can speak for myself and I think I can speak for a lot of other people too: You don’t really think about it. You just worry about yourself. But you obviously watch matches. Part of you is a scout. Part of you is being a fan. It’s a little weird, I don’t know. Not knowing the timelines, it’s kind of weird, actually. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe.”
Zito said the honest truth was that they didn’t care who they were going to play next, they just focused on their team.
The Lightning learns that they are in another heavyweight match with the Panthers.
This was always the hardest path. Teams that finish 2-3 in the Atlantic have to play with each other and potentially get a first place finish in Florida on the other side of it.
Leaf Overtaking took every ounce of energy and Moxie for the championship that Bolt possessed.
Leafs Nation is dealing with another heartbreak. Six straight years into the Auston Matthews era without winning a playoff series. The Leafs are now experiencing the longest NHL drought of not winning a playoff streak, dating back to 2004 thanks in part to the Leafs’ victory over the Capitals and ending a drought dating back to 1996.
So there’s more worry again for Leafs fans. And there was clearly a deep injury on Saturday night as the Levs’ senior players spoke emotionally of yet another first-round loss.
But know this, successive Stanley Cup champions are walking away from that streak thinking big about the foliage.
“An incredible team,” Victor Hedman said of Foliage. “It was a close fighting streak. They have some great players. They were fighting hard. It was a close match tonight, it could have gone either way you feel. They are a great group. Their best players are still youngsters in this league, and they will get Another chance at this.”
The foliage is as close as it was with this group before. This wasn’t a meltdown like a year ago. They went toe to toe with the heroes. They didn’t look shy at all.
But because of previous playoff losses to Columbus and Montreal, in particular, it’s hard to study the Tampa Series in a vacuum.
There are no participation strips in the NHL. You win or you lose. At some point, if you play the opponent, you have to win a series.
I am not advocating massive changes. The Leafs are a very talented team and it looks like the process will eventually lead to that outcome.
But at some point the property will tire of all these first-round mistakes.
Next season looks like this group’s last chance to get over the hump. Especially because next summer will be decision time for Matthews, who will enter the 2023 season away from unrestricted free agency by one year. So 12-13 months from now, the Leafs will need an answer from their star center about his future intentions, and Matthews will need to determine if Toronto is where he can win a cup.
But it won’t be the summer, here and now, as I’m going to make massive changes to the Leafs roster. I’ll give them another chance next year.
“I know some of their players,” Cooper said of the Leafs. “I was behind a bench with Morgan Rielly, I was behind a bench with Mitch Marner, I was behind the bench with Auston Matthews; and if those guys became available I would be the first to put them on my team.
They gave us everything we could handle. ”
As well as leopards, no doubt.
Buckle up, it’s the second round of the Lightning-Panthers, which was hell for a series a year ago.
“I think it’s great for hockey here, obviously for the fans,” Zito said. “The level of excitement surrounding our sport in Florida, certainly in South Florida, increasing the game, getting people interested and engaging people; we hope you continue to drive that.”
The series is likely to start on Tuesday at Sunrise.
“Florida is a hell team,” Cooper said. “We’ve watched them all year. We’ve had some amazing fights with them. People, especially in Florida, have been begging the two teams to be competitive and to compete. In the past year, a lot of people said this might have been the playoff series.”
The Lightning has looked tired at times in his streak with the Leafs, only so much hockey in the past three years. And now there is a question about the injury with star Brayden Point, for whom Cooper did not get an update on Saturday night.
Meanwhile, the Panthers weren’t at their best at times in a six-game streak that beat Washington. Perhaps the weight of expectations was the factor. But either way, there’s another level in the Florida game that the Panthers need to get to, to beat Tampa.
“I think our players would say the same, there is definitely plenty of room to keep raising our game and keep improving,” Zito said. “And I think they are looking forward to the challenge.”
Round two probably won’t disappoint this season when choosing between Florida, Tampa Bay and Toronto.
Panthers bolts it. They are shaped to be massive.
(Photo by Nikita Kucherov and Brandon Montour: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)