The Tampa Bay Lightning begin the quest for their third straight Stanley Cup when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night to open a first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, will be trying to win a first-round series for the first time since 2004. They have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967.
Last year, Toronto lost a seventh game at home to the Montreal Canadiens after building a 3-1 lead in the series.
“For sure, there’s going to be a lot of hype coming into this round, but our group is a mature group,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “We know how to handle a lot of different situations come playoff time, and we’ll have to lean on our experience here.”
This is the first time the Lightning have faced the Maple Leafs in the playoffs. They were 2-1-1 against Toronto in the regular season.
The Maple Leafs have the home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series, with Game 2 in Toronto on Wednesday.
“We’re going to need every edge we can get,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “You want to build positive momentum in a series, against a team like this especially.
“Home ice is big. We played all season for it. The first four games are all you’re guaranteed in a series at this point, two in each building, so there is no real advantage in that sense. But certainly starting at home is great and we want to earn our way to an advantage in the back end of the series.
The Lightning defeated the Maple Leafs 8-1 on April 21 in Tampa, but Toronto was without top scorer Auston Matthews and No. 1 goaltender Jack Campbell.
Matthews had a hat trick in Toronto’s 6-2 win over the Lightning on April 4 in Tampa.
On Tuesday, Matthews became the first NHL player to reach 60 goals in a season since Stamkos did it for the Lightning in 2011-12. Matthews finished the season with 106 points and linemate Mitchell Marner had 97 points.
Stamkos finished the regular season with a franchise-record 10th career hat trick Friday against the New York Islanders. He finished the season with 42 goals and 106 points.
Stamkos had 26 points over his final nine games. His 33 points in April were the most by a Lightning player in a calendar month and the most by any NHL player since Mario Lemieux had 34 in December 1995.
“What a run he went on,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Probably three weeks ago, if you said he was going to get 40 goals and 100 points, I don’t know if people would have bet on that. But good for him. He’s had a hell of a year, and hence we are where we are. We’ve needed contributions from everybody, but he has been a huge part of our team.”
Goaltending will be a key to the series. Andrei Vasilevskiy has been a mainstay for the Lightning in their Cup runs.
“We know we’re going to have a chance to win every night,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “(Vasilevskiy) has shown in the postseason the competitor he is, and the bigger the games, it feels like he just gets better.”
Campbell’s NHL playoff experience is limited to the seven games in last season’s loss to the Canadiens.
–Field Level Media
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