This game was essentially meaningless.
With the Lightning merely jockeying for positioning and the right to maybe play an extra home game or two in the first or second round of the playoffs, a Tuesday night content on night two of a back-to-back against hapless Toronto really doesn't mean a whole lot.
The Bolts played without three of their top-5 defensemen (Victor Hedman, Braydon Coburn, and Jason Garrison) and the youth on the back-end showed a bit, but for the most part the Lightning did what they could to carry the balance of play and try to earn the two points anyways. James Reimer, who stopped 40 of 41 shots on goal, was ultimately the difference in a 3-1 Leafs win.
The game began as one might expect following an emotional (and important) 5-3 victory in Montreal over the Canadiens the night before. The Lightning came out flat, committed a couple of early penalties, and found themselves in a 1-0 hole after a Toronto Maple Leafs power play tally that deflected in off Nazem Kadri.
A bad goal given up by Andrei Vasilevskiy -- something he does not often do -- made it 2-0 for the Leafs before the Lightning seemed involved in the game at all, as David Booth fired a seemingly harmless low wrister from near the half-wall that eluded Vasilevskiy.
It quickly became clear, however, that with little to play for this Toronto team wouldn't exactly be the stingiest of lead-protectors. Ryan Callahan scored perhaps the easiest power play goal of his career off a rebound, with plenty of time to collect and pot the loose puck before anyone challenged him defensively.
Tampa Bay finally started to take control of the game in the 2nd period, but couldn't solve James Reimer while looking for an equalizer in spite of some grade A scoring chances, including an Ondrej Palat one-timer in the slot on the power play.
Perhaps the biggest mistake of the night was a pretty awful breakdown right off the opening draw in the third, with the Lightning caught down low and Barberio-Nesterov not getting any forward help on the backcheck as Rielly buried a shot off the rush for a 3-1 Leafs lead with a 4v4 goal just seconds into the final frame.
There were opportunities to be had in the remainder of regulation time, but James Reimer played a strong game overall and stopped a handful of chances in the third period, including a few great ones in the slot and a shot off the post by Ondrej Palat with the extra attacker on, to finish off the Bolts by a score of 3-1.
- Love the aggression from Jon Cooper pulling goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy with over 3 minutes remaining down a pair in what is essentially a meaningless game.
- It's easy to try and point fingers or assess a narrative reason for why the Lightning lost this game. But no, they didn't play down to the level of their competition, and no, they weren't tired after a big win the night before. They had a crappy first period, dominated from the 2nd period on, and couldn't put pucks behind James Reimer in spite of a lot of good chances. It happens. On to the next one.
- Nobody appeared to be injured in this game. Tyler Johnson is likely nearing a return and Victor Hedman could also return on the ongoing road trip. Getting everyone they possibly can as close to 100% and back into the lineup has to be this team's priority right now, not winning games against bottom-feeders to maybe improve their chances of playing 4 home games in a series instead of 3.
- Slater Koekkoek skated a respectable 15:31 in his NHL debut. Jon Cooper mixed up the D-pairs throughout, so he didn't have a steady partner, but he looked fine with the minutes he was asked to play. His skating stands out immediately, with a smooth, efficient stride and a pretty good instinct for jumping into the play or gliding back and breaking up a rush. His outlet passes were also, for the most part, smartly made and on the tape.
- Koekkoek was obviously being sheltered a bit by Jon Cooper -- he led the Lightning in offensive zone start % at 87.50% -- but he managed a plus night in possession and didn't look out of place either leading a rush or defending the cycle down low. He's close to being a full-time NHLer, but not quite there yet.
- In other action, the Boston Bruins pulled out a 3-2 victory at home over the Florida Panthers with a pair of third period goals, likely ending the Cats' hopes of making the playoffs. It appears more and more likely that the Bruins will make it into the playoffs as the final seed in the East.