The 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs are quickly approaching now that the NHL regular season is over. Monday night sees the beginning of an intense chase for Stanley Cup glory.
This year’s playoffs see old and new faces in the first round. We also see a few rematches from a year ago. In the Western Conference, the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings renew their fight from last year.
In the East, two Atlantic Division heavyweights meet again in the first round. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning will face off in round one after a highly entertaining series in 2022.
This series depicts two completely opposite stories. The Lightning are attempting to reach their fourth straight Stanley Cup Finals, and continue their recent dynastic success.
The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, are looking for their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 1967. That is also the last time the team won the Stanley Cup, defeating the Montreal Canadiens in six games.
Which team will come out on top in Round 1? Here are three bold predictions for this highly-anticipated Lightning-Maple Leafs rematch.
3. Ilya Samsonov’s coming out party
The Toronto Maple Leafs overhauled their goaltending after their loss to the Lightning last year. One of those acquisitions, Ilya Samsonov, flashed a bit of promise during the season.
The 25-year-old Samsonov won 27 games in 40 starts, posting a .919 save percentage and 2.33 goals against average. This year’s playoffs provide a major test for the former first-round pick, and he will stand up to the task.
Samsonov will be the rock in between the net for the Maple Leafs, and will help them to great success. Toronto receives shaky performances a year ago from Jack Campbell, but that won’t be a cause for concern this year.
2. Scorey Perry returns
The Lightning have their obvious superstars in Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, and Nikita Kucherov. This season, the team will need an unsung hero step up. And they’ll receive a major performance from one of their veterans.
Corey Perry joined the Lightning ahead of the 2021-22 season, and he filled in his role. He scored 40 points in the regular season and four points against the Maple Leafs last playoffs.
This year, Perry will be nearly a point-per-game player as he turns back the clock a little bit. In a season where the Lightning have seemed more human than in years previous, the veteran winger will be needed this go around.
Perry plays near the level of those star players and keeps the Lightning in this series as much as he can.
1. Toronto exercises their demons
The Maple Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967. Back then, the NHL had just six teams. In fact, that season was the last of the “Original Six” era.
Beyond that, the Maple Leafs have not won a Stanley Cup Playoff series since 2004. That season preceded the NHL’s lockout in 2004-05. A lockout that changed the NHL forever moving forward.
The Maple Leafs are entering their seventh consecutive Stanley Cup Playoffs. The last six appearances yielded nothing, but this year will be different.
While the Lightning have dominated in years past, they had their struggles this season. Tampa lost six of their last 10 games of the regular season. Furthermore, they struggled away from home, finishing 18-22-1.
This year is the year for the Maple Leafs to finally win that playoff series and get the monkey off their back. Toronto wins and continues their chase for an ever-elusive Stanley Cup.