The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-0 at Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday night.
The Lightning, coming into tonight’s game on a 7-1-1 run since February 27, hit a speed bump. Or a pothole. Or a road block. Some kind of metaphorical obstruction keeping them from jumping fully into the playoff mix, at least for a night.
With an opportunity to not only put distance between themselves and the Maple Leafs but leapfrog over the New York Islanders and into sole possession (at least for the time being) of the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff slot, the Lightning instead played their worst game (at least in terms of the final score) of the year. They now find themselves behind Toronto once again and while tied with the Islanders at 78 points, trailing them due to a tiebreaker.
As the score effectively illustrates, the Lightning had absolutely nothing. Maybe they had some things but not everything. Okay, at least one thing was missing.
“Well the thing that was missing was the defending. That was what we weren’t doing. Actually we were fine in the game. It was just the little ten by ten area in front of our net was the only area on the ice we didn’t play. Clearly that’s the most important part. That’s what’s unfortunate. We’ve been so good defending of late, hence why we’ve had success. We didn’t tonight. It’s too bad because it looks bad on Vasilevskiy, but there’s not much he can do when you’ve got guys just tapping them in and winning battles against us there. What can you do? Missed opportunity for us, but we’re going to wake up tomorrow with the same amount of points we’re out of a playoff spot as we started today so just got to turn the page and move on. That’s it.” - Lightning head coach Jon Cooper
At 9:19 of the first, Roman Polak’s shot hit Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy in the right shoulder and bounced over his head and into the net. Tyler Bozak picked up the sole assist.
The eventual game winner was the only goal scored in the first period.
The second period was a disaster for the Bolts.
At 2:24, Morgan Rielly snapped a wrister that Vasilevskiy initially slowed down with his leg pad, but still had enough on it to trickle underneath and in. Nazem Kadri and Alexey Marchenko were credited with assists on the play.
“I tried to fight for the puck. I tried to see. Just when I found it, the puck was already in the air and I didn’t have time to go down. That’s why it goes through my legs. They played really well in front. Last couple games we did a good job boxing out and we played really well in front.” - Vasilevskiy
Just 15 seconds later, Matt Martin potted a rebound off the post to make it 3-0, with Matt Hunwick and Nikita Soshnikov offering assistance.
The Maple Leafs converted on the power play at 6:14, with Leo Komarov and William Nylander feeding Connor Brown.
At that point, Vasilevskiy was relieved, having surrendered four goals on 15 shots. Peter Budaj would go on to stop five of six shots in relief.
Toronto scored their final goal at 15:41, with James Van Riemsdyk scoring on helpers from Rielly and Mitchell Marner.
Any hope for the Lightning to somehow find a way back into it was snuffed when they failed to convert with extra men late in the period, registering just a single shot in 1:10 of five-on-three.
“There was good looks. Listen, all you can ask for is good scoring chances. I think we had some good scoring chances. Maybe a couple times, just focusing in, when the score is whatever, 4-0, I don’t know, it might be a little bit more difficult to focus in. We’ve got to be a little bit better on the power play. Those guys, the first unit for sure, has been awesome for us the past month. They were getting opportunities and that’s all you can really ask for.” - Lightning forward Alex Killorn
Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen would eventually turn away 33 shots in earning the shutout.
The Lightning’s next game is at home Saturday night, when they’ll host the Eastern Conference-leading Washington Capitals.