Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Toronto Maple Leafs NHL Expert Pick and Prediction – April 27, 2023
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING VS. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS NHL EXPERT PICK AND PREDICTION – April 27, 2023 — Is this the end of the line for the Lightning? It’s starting to feel that way after Tampa Bay blew two third-period leads in Florida and now finds itself on the brink of elimination. The Lightning have dominated the Eastern Conference ever since COVID, winning three consecutive Prince of Wales Trophies, but this has always been a team that’s been near the end of its championship window, and this might finally be it for a squad that lived dangerously last season.
For Toronto, the pressure’s on to get it done now. The Maple Leafs haven’t won a series since before the 2004-05 lockout, as they’ve had some of the worst collapses in the first round of the playoffs since then. Toronto has taken its first-round series the distance for five consecutive years, and the Maple Leafs lost all of them. It’s been a running joke in Ontario for nearly two decades that the only way Toronto will win a seventh game in April is if it’s against Ottawa, as the Maple Leafs eliminated their provincial rivals four times in five years at the start of the millennium. But nobody in Toronto’s laughed at that joke in a while; the 2004 win in seven over the Senators remains the last time the Maple Leafs won a playoff series.
Once again, the Leafs have a chance to close out their foe after getting to three wins. And that means Scotiabank Arena will be very nervous, because Toronto has suffered so much heartbreak over the past five seasons. The Maple Leafs should have all the momentum. They should finally be ready to get past the aging Lightning. But can Toronto really break the Curse of the Senators?
|Tampa Bay Lightning
|Toronto Maple Leafs
(53-22-11 SU, 38-48 PL)
When: Thursday, April 27th at 7 pm EST
Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
Public Bets: 60% on Toronto
Public Money: 54% on Toronto
Odds courtesy of DraftKings, as of April 27th, 2023
Tampa Bay vs. Toronto In-Season Trends
Defense remains completely optional in this series, and that’s being kind. All four games have seen at least seven goals, with three out of four getting to nine. Neither Andrei Vasilevskiy nor Ilya Samsonov have done much of anything to stop the opposing offense, and that’s nothing unusual in this matchup. Over the past 28 meetings, the OVER has cashed in 20 of them.
There’s a real worry with Vasilevskiy and whether he’s seeing the puck as well from the blue line, as Toronto has been far more willing to try shots from the perimeter than it was a season ago. The Leafs have used their defensemen well in this series, which has opened space for long-distance attacks that Tampa Bay has proven unable to stop. That said, the Leafs have also waited until the third period to get going in three out of four games in this series. Tampa Bay has scored seven of its 16 goals in the first 20 minutes and led after one in two of four games, making them a solid play to jump out of the blocks early.
Players to Watch
Auston Matthews knows the pressure’s on to deliver a series win to Toronto. He’s certainly not the reason that the Leafs have fallen short six years running, but he’s the visible face of one of the biggest franchises in the NHL, and that means the pressure is always squarely on his shoulders. He came up with two goals in Game 4 to turn the game around and set up the Leafs’ comeback, and he’ll need to keep that momentum going.
Game 4 also saw the first instance of Steven Stamkos lighting the lamp, and Tampa needs more from its star if it’s going to get back in this series. Stamkos has just three points in this series, and even though the Lightning did win Game 1 without him scoring, they depend on him too much to go without his contributions. If the Lightning are going to keep up with Toronto, they either need Stamkos to get going or Vasilevskiy to make some saves.
Defense hasn’t done anything in this series, and I see no reason for that to change here. The biggest question is whether Tampa Bay still has some fight or whether the Lightning are finally cooked after making three long runs at the Stanley Cup and bringing home the title twice.
To me, the key to this game is Tampa Bay starting fast. This Leafs crowd has had their heart broken too many times to consider a 3-1 lead safe. All it takes is one good first period and the Maple Leaf fans could become a liability from nerves. Tampa Bay’s started well in three of four games, and I think the Lightning can get back on track with their backs to the wall.
|Lightning ML +135
OVER 1.5 Goals First Period