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Vasilevskiy returns to shut down Maple Leafs in 4-1 Lightning victory

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The Big Cat made an emphatic statement with a 48 save domination of the Maple Leafs.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Alright, we’re getting this out of the way right now. Tampa Bay did not deserve this win—flat out. The only period they had any semblance of control was the first and it was a sloppy one at best. Toronto threw 49 shots on net and controlled 57% of the shots at 5v5 throughout the night. This game was won thanks to opportunistic scoring and a dominating performance by Andrei Vasilevskiy. However, a win is a win and Tampa Bay will take them in any way they can. So, a 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs is still sweet either way.

I’m sorry folks, but there’s no real way to retell the nonsense we saw this evening. Tampa Bay was “meh” in the first period, bad for 17 minutes in the second, and didn’t record a shot until there was 6:27 left in the third period. Toronto stifled a lot of Tampa Bay’s offense by pinning the Lightning in their own zone. While Toronto deserves credit for harassing Tampa Bay, some issues were self inflicted.

The first (and only) Toronto goal is 100% on Nikita Kucherov. Terrible decision here and it gives Kasperi Kapanen far too much time to pick his spot. Passes like this occurred throughout the game and in all three zones. Tampa Bay cleaned it up a bit later in the game, but they had eight giveaways in the first period (they had 12 all game) alone. Toronto, on the other hand, only had six takeaways. Tampa Bay was their own worst enemy in this regard.

Luckily, Tampa Bay’s penalty kill has been among the NHL’s best and one of the biggest reasons showed up yet again to score his third shorthanded goal of the season.

Nothing prettier than $6.9 million per year getting poke checked on a weak zone entry by $735,000 and then having to watch a short-handed goal. Jokes aside, I don’t know what Nylander is thinking there, it’s almost as bad as Kucherov’s gift to Kapanen minutes earlier. He doesn’t have a ton of speed to get through and he barely makes a move once he gets near Anthony Cirelli.

As for the goal, Cirelli dekes out Andersen. If Cirelli hadn’t scored then the Lightning would’ve received a power-play since the officials were going to penalize Tyler Ennis after the play, but the goal negated that.

The remainder of the first saw a lot of back and forth, but neither team could capitalize. Tampa Bay ended up controlling 54% of the shot attempts at 5v5, but Toronto had the quality edge at 54%.

This was a sign for things to come for Toronto.

There’s only one way to describe the second period.

#Vezinalevskiy

The last one of this GIF string was at the start of the third period.

Toronto received four power-plays in the second period. Tampa Bay received two, but where the Leafs failed, the Lightning prevailed.

Everyone in the arena thought this was a fantastic save by Frederik Andersen, except J.T. Miller. Miller immediately signals the officials to take a look at the save and well...

Kucherov’s goal happened early in the period, before Tampa Bay’s penalty troubles allowed a barrage of shots and pressure to fall on Vasilevskiy (and provide us with those fantastic GIFs above). Full stop, Vasilevskiy was the single biggest reason Toronto did not score on their power-plays in the second, and in the entire game. Tampa Bay’s coverage wasn’t perfect all the time, but there were moments when they had the Leafs chasing them while shorthanded.

Being shorthanded so often tilts the ice, and Jon Cooper lamented that during his press conference, “It’s difficult when you’re killing so much against the lethal power-play that they have, and so we just continued to spend time in our zone and it became draining.” Tampa Bay took four penalties (only three power-plays since one penalty was offset) in nine minutes. Cooper’s statement rings quite accurate.

The pressure that Alex Killorn and Cirelli put on Patrick Marleau in the neutral zone is what enables this sequence to even occur. Cirelli then handles the puck near the blue line before wiring a pass to a wide open Killorn (don’t ask me what Ron Hainsey is doing here, I’m still trying to figure it out). Then Killorn, somehow, pulls a nifty backhand out of nowhere and it beats Andersen to make it 3-1.

Tampa wasn’t done though.

First, great backcheck by Tyler Johnson on Travis Dermott here. Victor Hedman and Dan Girardi were going to neutralize his zone entry with stick checks, but Johnson forcing himself into the play threw everything off for the Leafs defender. Girardi then lofts it toward Brayden Point who feeds it Kucherov on the right wing. Igor Ozhiganov makes a great poke check on Kucherov’s pass attempt back to Point, but the puck finds its way to Girardi again. Girardi passes it back to Kucherov who feeds it to Johnson for a wide open one-timer. Dermott was the last man back for Toronto and he’s not even close to picking up Johnson. I know he isn’t the biggest forward on the ice, but you can’t let any NHLer be that open.

Two daggers, 34 seconds apart and like Cooper said, “That was the game.”

Toronto piled on 16 more shots in the third period, but none of them changed anything. Vasilevskiy embodied the Great Wall of China after the Kapanen goal. Toronto’s going to have nightmares about the inhuman saves Vasilevskiy made.

The Good

Vezinalevskiy

Talk about an emphatic message to the rest of the league. Vasilevskiy was downright dominant tonight. If it wasn’t for the Kucherov gift to Kapanen, the Leafs could have been shut out (imagine the overreaction that city would’ve had if that were the case).

Auston Matthews - two shots

John Tavares - six shots

Mitch Marner - seven shots

William Nylander - three shots

Morgan Rielly - one shot

Jake Gardiner - five shots

That’s 24 shots between those six players and none of them recording a single point. Now, a lot of these are inflated due to the power-plays Toronto received, but it wasn’t like Toronto was being lazy at 5v5; they controlled this game. Whatever worries that fans had about Vasilevskiy coming back were washed away with this performance.

The Bad

Execution

Tampa Bay overall had no business winning this game. Like Cooper said, “They had 59 minutes, we had one.” That’s quite accurate of tonight’s effort. Luckily, Tampa Bay has limited these kinds of games. The Lightning are far better than what they showed tonight and they still pulled off a victory. If Tampa Bay plays their game in the next three meetings then Toronto is going to be in trouble.

The Lightning can’t play like they did this evening moving forward. Especially with this western Canada trip looming. Winnipeg is good, Calgary is the top team in the west, Vancouver loves playing spoiler, and Edmonton has been on a hot streak. Tampa Bay has to clean it up. The good thing is that this was the only stinker of a game they’ve played over this winning streak. If they play one poor game out of eight and still win, you take it, but they can’t allow bad habits to fester.

The Whatever

Rip this to shreds, folks.