The NHL playoffs are starting later than usual this year, but you wouldn’t know it from the atmosphere Thursday in Tampa Bay with no love lost between the Lightning and visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. It didn’t take long for things to get testy with Leah Hextall’s sideline report hijacked by Patrick Maroon and Wayne Simmonds, who proceeded to hurl insults at each other from opposite benches.
Fans got to see the whole exchange live on ESPN with Hextall caught in between, marveling (from the safety of her plexiglass booth) as the two combatants went back and forth in a glorious display of one-upmanship, culminating with a devastating blow from Maroon, who went straight for the jugular by asking his Toronto counterpart how many rings he’s won. Simmonds, of course, has never played in a championship series, much less won one. Maroon, on the other hand, has won titles each of his last three seasons, with two of those coming as a member of the Lightning.
If the season ended today, the Leafs and Lightning (second and third respectively in the Atlantic Division standings) would face each other in the opening round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs with Toronto getting home ice. Tampa Bay is seeking its third consecutive Stanley Cup, something that hasn’t happened in the NHL since the Islanders won four straight from 1980-83.