NHL Betting Preview: Maple Leafs Push Lightning To Brink Of Elimination

Toronto hasn't won a playoff series since 2004, and has been awful in close-out games
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Toronto Maple Leafs @ Tampa Bay Lightning — May 12

Line:  Maple Leafs (+105) at Lightning (-128) — FanDuel

Total: 7

Series history:

Game 1 — Maple Leafs 5, Lightning 0

Game 2 — Lightning 5, Maple Leafs 3

Game 3 — Maple Leafs 5, Lightning 2

Game 4 – Lightning 7, Maple Leafs 3

Game 5 — Maple Leafs 4, Lightning 3

Initial series price — Maple Leafs (-122), Lightning (+100)

Current series price — Maple Leafs (-350), Lightning (+275)

About the Maple Leafs: The Maple Leafs are on the verge of exorcising their playoff demons after pushing the defending back-to-back Stanley Cup champions to the brink of elimination following a thrilling come-from-behind, 4-3 win over the Lightning on Tuesday night. Toronto, which has lost six straight playoff series, fell behind 2-0 to Tampa in the first period, but clawed its way back in the third period before 60-goal man Auston Matthews put the game away late for the Leafs.

With Toronto leading the best-of-seven series 3-2, the scene now shifts back to Tampa for Game 6 on Thursday night. The victor will likely be the team that takes the least amount of penalties, as the teams have combined for a whopping 225 penalty minutes over the first five games of the series, resulting in 52 total power plays for 10 goals.

The officiating has been heavily scrutinized in the series for a number of soft calls, but forward Mitch Marner said after Game 5 that the referees have at least been consistent.

“Every game’s been called the same way. We should have an understanding,” he said.

Historically, teams that have gone up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have gone on to win the series 79% of the time.

Maple Leafs players to watch: Forward William Nylander has 17 points in his past 16 playoff games. Marner and Matthews share the Leafs’ lead in playoff scoring with seven points apiece.

About the Lightning: Game 5 was Tampa’s to lose after limiting Toronto’s attack through 40 minutes, but it all fell apart in the third period. The Lightning took two awful too-many-men-on-the-ice penalties, but Tampa’s penalty kill has been outstanding in the series, holding the NHL’s leading power play scoreless on 20 of 24 opportunities with the man advantage.

“We’re not really making them earn it,” Leafs coach John Cooper told reporters after Game 5. “We’re kind of giving it to them.”

With Game 6 back in Tampa, Cooper will once again have the last-change opportunity to get his top defensive line forwards — Anthony Cirelli, Brayden Point, and Alex Killorn — matched up against the Marner and Matthews line. Cirelli and Co. were extremely effective defensively against the Matthews line early in the series, and that will again be a key to success in Game 6. Should there be a Game 7 in Toronto, the Maple Leafs will reacquire last-change advantage as the home team, and be able to keep Matthews away from Tampa’s shutdown forwards.

Lightning players to watch: Forward Nikita Kucherov has been unstoppable lately, amassing 11 goals and 19 assists over his past 14 games. Defenseman Victor Hedman has also been a point-grabbing machine, recording three goals and 21 assists over his past 14 contests.

Sports betting trends:

  • The Lightning are 16-0 since the beginning of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs following a loss.
  • Teams that win Game 5 (Toronto did in this series) when a series is tied 2-2 hold an all-time series record of 219-58 (.791), including a 6-0 record in the 2021 playoffs.
  • The Lightning and Leafs have played over the total in each of their last four games in the series.
  • Toronto is 0-7 in games where it has had a chance to close out a playoff series in the Matthews/Marner era.

Photo: Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY

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