Can the Maple Leafs Go 2-for-2 Against the Florida Teams? – The Hockey Writers – Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs are riding a wave of momentum following strong performances in their three most recent games. Except for the third period against the Florida Panthers on Monday night, the team had played eight consecutive solid periods. 

Looking at the schedule two weeks ago, fans had to have marked this week on their calendars. It would be a litmus test of how their team might fare during the postseason. Facing two formidable opponents like the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, who are also potential postseason matchups, presented a significant challenge. With the 6-4 win over the Panthers – even after the third-period hiccup – the team passed test number one.

They have their second this evening against the team they ousted in the first round of the playoffs last season. Can they make it two wins in a row?

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Additionally, the Atlantic Division standings are shifting. For the longest time, the Maple Leafs seemed glued to third place. With the Panthers on a small losing streak, Toronto is now only four points behind with two games in hand. There’s suddenly a possibility that they could pass the Panthers. Indeed, they are also close enough to envision that – given a few more wins during the regular season – they might pick up a series where they have home-ice advantage. 

What Should Fans Look for Tonight Against the Lightning?

Here are some factors that could influence the Maple Leafs’ chances of winning their second game in a row against the Florida teams. One test passed with the win over the Panthers. Can they beat the Lightning as well?

First, the Maple Leafs have regained confidence and momentum after their recent success. Building on this positive momentum will be key against the Lightning. Can the team’s renewed determination and belief in its abilities propel it to a win against this second tough opponent?

Second, even missing key players, the team’s depth has come to the fore. The Maple Leafs have struggled to maintain consistency in their defensive play. Against the Panthers, they were overwhelming for two periods and on their heels for the third. But they held on. Solid defence, particularly during the latter stages of games, will be crucial in thwarting the offensive threats posed by the Lightning. Can the Maple Leafs tighten up and continue to play a simple game that minimizes their defensive gaffs and improves their chances of winning?

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Third, can the Maple Leafs continue to capitalize on offensive opportunities throughout the lineup? Against the Panthers, five different players scored. Such depth scoring augments the Maple Leafs’ usual stars like Auston Matthews and William Nylander. Capitalizing on offensive opportunities and converting scoring chances will be paramount in overcoming the Lightning’s strong defensive unit. 

Maple Leafs Have a Key Player Returning in Morgan Rielly

In a critical update for the Maple Leafs, Morgan Rielly is ready for game action and will return tonight. He should boost the team’s power-play unit, which has been struggling recently. As the team’s top offensive defenseman, Rielly’s presence adds a power-play weapon from the blue line.

Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Rielly’s contributions will significantly add to the Maple Leafs’ attack. His vision, passing skills, and ability to generate scoring chances make him a valuable asset. He can make a difference in Toronto’s special team’s play.

Regular Season Games Don’t Mean Much in the Postseason, But Tonight Might Be Different

As Panthers head coach Paul Maurice noted before Monday’s game, no one will remember the regular season when the postseason starts. (Except for hockey writers, as he noted.) He might be right. However, I can’t believe a Maple Leafs win tonight won’t help the team’s confidence heading down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Related: PWHL Playoff Race Taking Shape with 5 Games Remaining

Two weeks ago, securing victories against both the Panthers and the Lightning would have been seen as a target that would help measure the team’s credibility. Now, they are one win away from accomplishing that task. Can the Maple Leafs elevate their game when they need to? That’s a question that looms on the horizon.

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