The Maple Leafs got their comeuppance in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Wednesday.
Just as Toronto had dominated Game 1, the Tampa Bay Lightning asserted itself in a relatively easy 5-3 victory.
The Maple Leafs now head to Florida with the hope that they can win on Friday or Sunday and return home in a strong position next Tuesday at Scotiabank Arena for Game 5 of the best-of-seven series.
It is a tall task, as tall as Victor Hedman maybe.
The Maple Leafs have nobody to match the six-foot-six Lightning defenceman. That’s not so much a knock because few teams do.
But Hedman rather quietly put together the type of night that is representative of a future Hall of Famer.
The 31-year-old broke a 0-0 tie in the final seconds of the first period and then assisted on three of Tampa Bay’s remaining four goals.
In doing so, Hedman became the first Lightning defenceman to record four points in a postseason game and just the sixth player in franchise history.
He is a Swede so he is quiet and unassuming. (Try to find a Swedish hockey player who isn’t.) He’s likeable, too. He stops before he leaves the parking lot in Tampa to sign autographs for kids.
“He leads by example, and he has done that all season,” said Corey Perry, the 36-year-old right wing. “When we need somebody to step up our big boys have done it.”
The “big boys” have done it for some time now. Tampa Bay is in pursuit of its third successive Stanley Cup and if it succeeds it will be the first team to do so in 40 years.
Nikita Kucherov is one of those big boys, too. He chipped in with a goal and two assists. In the two previous years he had 66 points during the playoffs.
And so is Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Vézina Trophy winner had 31 saves in his 15th consecutive victory following a loss in the playoffs.
Steven Stamkos is another. He hasn’t quite got untracked yet but posted an assist on Wednesday. He regularly torches his hometown Maple Leafs and now has 73 points during the postseason in his career.
The Lightning is a deep and talented team. They are not the Canadiens or the Columbus Blue Jackets, neither of which Toronto was able to beat when it had to these past two years.
“They have world-class players at all positions,” Sheldon Keefe, the Maple Leafs coach, said late Wednesday.
His team was assessed seven penalties in Game 2 and gave up three goals on power plays. Interestingly, Toronto players have not complained about the officiating, even if their fans scream any time one of them gets touched.
For the Maple Leafs to win, they have to reel those penalties in. Tampa Bay is expert at goading opponents into them.
“I thought we were engaged from the start,” Perry said. He is a stinker by trade, and one of the best. “There is a line and you can’t cross it. It’s a fine line in the playoffs. You have to earn every piece of the ice. We battled and got rewarded.”
Toronto controlled Monday’s game. It lost control on Wednesday. That is usually the way the playoffs go. Momentum swings back and forth.
But Tampa is so experienced at it that it presents a real and present danger. There will be no panic.
The Maple Leafs have stars, too, and so far they have performed well. Mitch Marner has two goals and five points. Auston Matthews has scored twice and assisted on three more.
We’ll see if they can keep up that pace against a veteran team that has seen and done it all. Toronto is still in its trying stage.
Hedman has 20 goals in his career during the postseason now. The only other active defencemen with that many are Kris Letang and Brent Burns.
His goal with three seconds left in the opening period on Wednesday set the Lightning on the path to victory.
“We needed a bounceback game,” he said. “When you lose the first game 5-0 it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
“We had a couple of days to regroup and look at what we did and what we do. We know they are a great team. They have proven it all year.”