The Maple Leafs found themselves in an extremely quiet Scotiabank Arena after 20 minutes on Tuesday. Toronto could not have come out much flatter in Game 5, falling behind 2-0 to Tampa Bay at home, getting outshot 14-5.
But something seemed to change after the first period. The Leafs gathered themselves after a poor first period, stormed back against the Lightning and eventually grabbed a 4-3 win to take a 3-2 series lead.
The key to that spark? Jason Spezza.
The veteran forward grabbed the room’s attention during the first intermission and gave them a speech to get back into the game.
William Nylander on Jason Spezza:
“[His message was] it wasn’t good enough. We had to get battling and skating. That was the gist. He’s a great leader. He knows what it takes. When he says something, everyone listens.”
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) May 11, 2022
Spezza’s actions were praised by a number of his teammates. In addition to William Nylander, John Tavares, and Auston Matthews made sure to point out the action taken by the 38-year-old forward.
Both John Tavares and Auston Matthews mention how Jason Spezza spoke to the team at first intermission. Spezza’s message clearly found a receptive audience in the dressing room.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) May 11, 2022
After the first period, Tavares found the back of the net on a power play in the second to make it a one-goal game heading into the final frame. A goal by Morgan Reilly tied it before Nylander ripped a go-ahead goal by Andrei Vasilevskiy to give Toronto its first lead of the night.
Ryan McDonaugh clapped a bomb by Jack Campbell to even the game once again, but then it was Matthews and Mitch Marner executing on a 2-on-1 to give the Leafs the eventual game-winning goal.
— NHL (@NHL) May 11, 2022
There’s no denying that Spezza is not the player he once used to be. Long gone are the days of scoring 30 goals and 60 points.
But what he brings is that veteran leadership that is needed in the Toronto locker room. With a team that relies on young stars like Matthews, Marner, and Nylander, Spezza brings that experience to the table.
It wasn’t just the intermission. It was shown on the broadcast that Spezza went to calm Jack Campbell down during a TV timeout after allowing the second Lightning goal early in the first period.
Spezza trying to pump Campbell up pic.twitter.com/YVT107wTS4
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) May 11, 2022
That’s what makes guys like Spezza a must-have in a locker room. The Leafs have a ton of talent on the ice, but sometimes what you need to get over the hump is great voices in a room that will pick up each other.
The Leafs have a chance at winning a first-round series for the first time since 2014 when they travel to Tampa Bay for Game 6 on Thursday. If Toronto is able to clinch or even win in Game 7, don’t think that Spezza’s actions in Game 5 won’t go unnoticed.