The Tampa Bay Lightning have won two straight Stanley Cup titles, but unless they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night, that streak will come to an end.
The Lightning face elimination in Game 6 of their first-round playoff clash against Toronto, as the Maple Leafs lead the series three games to two.
Tampa Bay, Toronto bucking playoff history
Tampa Bay will host Game 6, giving them an advantage in the must-win contest. FanDuel Sportsbook rates the Lightning as a -138 favorite over the Maple Leafs (+115). There are other numbers that suggest the Lightning can pull this out as well. Tampa Bay is 16-0 following a postseason loss since the 2020 season. Meanwhile, Toronto hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004.
Still, the Lightning haven’t found themselves in positions like this over the past two years. Following a 4-3 loss on Tuesday, head coach Jon Cooper said things need to change if Tampa Bay wants to continue pursuing a third straight Stanley Cup.
“We’re getting burned by some of the things we’re doing instead of making them earn in the hard way – where they’re just beating us at our own game – and so that’s probably a little frustrating,” Cooper told reporters. “Maybe in years past, other teams just haven’t capitalized when we’ve broken down, so it hasn’t felt like that.”
On the other hand, Toronto has been here many times over the past few seasons. Since 2018, the Maple Leafs have needed to win just one game on seven different occasions to reach the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Seven times, the Leafs have failed to get that win. That includes blowing a 3-1 lead against the Montreal Canadians last year.
“We had opportunities last year, we didn’t get it done, we know that,” Toronto center Jason Spezza told reporters. “We’ve given ourselves two chances. But more importantly, there needs to be the similar urgency that we had in the last game. That urgency needs to follow us to Tampa.”
Cooper: Lightning allowing too many goals
Tampa Bay looked like it was ready to take control of the series in Game 5, jumping out to a 2-0 lead. But Toronto rallied back, once again finding ways to score against Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. The 2021 Conn Smythe Trophy winner hasn’t been great for Tampa Bay thus far, putting up only an .880 save percentage and allowing 3.65 goals per game.
“I always say this: If you give up two goals or less, you’re giving yourself a really good chance to win,” Cooper told reporters. “You give up three and the game’s going to be in doubt. And now you’re playing with fire. We’ve scored enough goals to win games; we’re just giving up too much.”
While Tampa Bay still has a chance and Toronto has a recent history of collapses, oddsmakers are showing faith in the Maple Leafs. FanDuel is offering just -350 on Toronto to beat Tampa Bay (+275) in the series.