Two eastern conference playoff teams squared off this evening in Amalie Arena, and fans were treated to a back-and-forth affair that showcased both teams’ strengths. Tampa Bay came out on top with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs and what a game this was.
The opening period displayed the kind of game we were about to witness. Speed, passing, and scoring. Albeit the scoring was of the tipped-in variety for most of the night, nonetheless Tampa Bay and Toronto showed what got them both into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference—speed and tenacity.
Tampa Bay opened the scoring 1:41 into the period as Chris Kunitz tipped a point shot from Andrej Sustr that squeaked through Frederik Andersen’s five-hole. The goal was a result of the traits that Tampa Bay has thrived on this season—speed, winning puck battles, and getting in front of the net.
Unfortunately, Tampa Bay’s lead wouldn’t last for long. Seven minutes later the Maple Leafs managed their own tip magic as James Van Riemsdyk deflected a point shot from Ron Hainsey that slid underneath Andrei Vasilevskiy to tie the game at one. To add to the quirky bounces of the first period Mitch Marner scored off a deflection from his skate 1:03 later to give Toronto the lead. There isn’t much to say about Toronto’s (or Tampa’s) first period goals; they were tips that bounced the right way. Neither team controlled the entire period and both had moments of dominance.
Heading into the second period all the Lightning needed to do was to continue skating, and as long as they kept that part of their game going their chances would come.
Those chances did in fact appear as Tyler Johnson recovered a loose puck, fired it on net, recovered his own rebound, and then scored off a wraparound to even the score at two a little under four minutes into the second period. This goal sparked some life into the Lightning and the next two shifts were all spent in the Toronto zone.
Unfortunately, penalty trouble started to rear its ugly head. Tampa Bay ended up on the wrong end of an abbreviated 5-on-3 after both Yanni Gourde and Steven Stamkos took slashing penalties midway through the period. Given how the Lightning penalty kill has been a relative mess this season there was a lot of worry that Toronto would regain their lead. Tampa Bay’s special teamsstepped up to the plate, however, with one of their best kills of the season. They forced Toronto’s shots to the outside and managed to zone out the lower slot well enough to neutralize Toronto’s deadliest shooters in-close.
Tampa Bay and Toronto traded some power-plays as the period progressed, but neither capitalized on their chances.
The stalemate was broken by another clutch goal by Adam Erne. Tampa Bay’s forecheck has been one of the standout attributes the team has displayed this season and Erne’s goal was a result of said forecheck.
Mikhail Sergachev lobbed the puck from just outside the Toronto blueline where Tyler Johnson proceeded to apply pressure on Roman Polak. Polak attempted to make a backhand pass to William Nylander that caught him off guard and went between his legs. Erne managed to recover the loose puck before Nylander could get his stick on it and proceeded to deke and outmuscle Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen. A small opening for a shot appeared and Erne didn’t hesitate to take it. Erne’s shot seemed to catch Andersen off guard and the puck slid underneath his right pad to give Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead—and the momentum.
Toronto didn’t pressure Tampa much the rest of the period outside of one shift, and that shift was a frightening one for the Lightning. A point shot managed to slip past a two-player screen (one of which was Tampa’s own defender) and caught Vasilevskiy by surprise. Vasilevskiy managed to get a piece of the shot, but the puck slipped underneath his right arm and onto the goal line. The puck then rolled on its edge across the entire goal line before Victor Hedman beat Mitch Marner’s stick by a fraction of a second to clear the puck away from danger.
Tampa Bay continued to control the period at even-strength and at times it looked as if Toronto was struggling to negate the Lighting forecheck. A late power-play for Tampa Bay provided them with an opportunity to increase their lead, but Frederik Andersen was up to the task thwarting a variety of quality chances. Without Andersen’s play during the second half of the second period, the Maple Leafs could’ve been looking at a multi-goal deficit.
Additionally, Nikita Kucherov was not present for the second period and was ruled out for the rest of the game during the second intermission with an upper-body injury—queue the worry everybody.
The Lightning entered the third period with 41 seconds remaining on their late power-play, but Andersen denied a Stamkos one-timer and a Victor Hedman point shot to kill the remainder of Toronto’s penalty.
The next few minutes saw both teams trade zone time, but neither mustered anything dangerous. However, an ill-advised holding penalty on Braydon Coburn enabled the Maple Leafs power-play unit their fourth opportunity of the evening. It didn’t take the Maple Leafs long to capitalize as Tyler Bozak converted on a one-timer from the right face-off circle to tie the game at three with 16:33 left in the third.
Tampa Bay came right back with a strong shift after the Toronto goal to stem some momentum, and some Toronto turnovers gave the Lightning some in-close chances, but Andersen stopped all of them.
The next few minutes were non-stop back and forth action with both teams getting chances. I can’t go into detail because the pace was frenetic during the middle portion of the third. Toronto had chances, Tampa had chances. Toronto made bad turnovers, Tampa made bad turnovers. Heart racing is the only way to really describe the middle portion of this period.
The pace eventually led to a breakaway for Mitch Marner and before he could managed to get a shot off Victor Hedman got his stick on his hands (he did, it sucks that they called it, but watch the replay, he got his hands) and broke up the shot. The officiating crew awarded Marner with a penalty shot—and thus the blood pressure of Amalie Arena skyrocketed.
Marner came in on the penalty shot and tried to deke around Vasilevkiy towards his right (Vasy’s left), but Marner was unable to elevate his shot and Vasilevskiy’s left pad denied his chance.
With 3:48 left in regulation, recent Maple Leaf addition Tomas Plekanec took a tripping penalty on Ryan Callahan and provided the Lightning with an opportunity to gain the lead at a critical juncture. Unfortunately, Toronto has one of the best penalty kills in the league and they shut down the Lightning power-play for the fourth time.
During the power-play, Tyler Johnson was injured during a scrum where he got tangled up with a Toronto defender and the official. On replay, it looked as though Toronto’s defender unknowingly stepped on Johnson’s leg with his blade. Johnson needed some assistance off the ice and went directly to the locker room.
Regulation ended without much excitement, but overtime was nonstop action. The first four minutes went by without a whistle and Toronto managed two breakaways that Vasilevskiy thwarted. Tampa Bay had their chances as well and held onto the puck longer than Toronto did, but both goaltenders were up to the task this evening.
Tyler Johnson returned for overtime.
The only thing to really describe that overtime period is “cardiac inducing panic”.
On to the shootout.
I’ll go into more detail below.
Tampa Bay has struggled since the new year rang in at even-strength and facing a Toronto team that is one of the better 5v5 teams in the league was a little worrisome. Tampa Bay stepped up to the task and then some. Tampa Bay controlled 62% of the shots at even strength and 54% in all situations. They pushed Toronto around in the second period and continued to control the game for large portions of the third.
Their first period wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. Toronto got two tips past Vasilevskiy while Tampa only got one past Andersen. Those things happen, and Tampa Bay didn’t allow it to alter their game in a negative way. They came out hungry and motivated in the second and Toronto didn’t have much of an answer during the second period.
The third period was a bit more seesaw, but without their power-plays, Toronto wasn’t mustering a lot of dangerous chances on their own. Tampa got a little lackadaisical with the puck at times and Toronto’s forecheck gave them a few scares during the closing frame of regulation. Luckily, the Lightning has Vasilevskiy in net.
The Lightning played a good game tonight. Nothing in their game was poor this evening, this was simply two evenly matched teams going at each other.
Unfortunately, Tampa Bay couldn’t get away from the injury bug. Nikita Kucherov did not play after the first period and was ruled out for the game during the second intermission due to an upper-body injury—that’s all we know at this time. We were told that the prognosis is quite positive and Kucherov is likely to play Wednesday night against Buffalo.
Tyler Johnson looked to be hurt when a Toronto defender’s skate went down on his leg (I cannot recall whom the defender was) after both of them got mixed up with an official during a corner scrum. Luckily, Johnson came back for overtime and didn’t look too bothered by the injury. We’ll see how it progresses for him.
With Ondrej Palat still out for at least two more weeks, the hope is that both Kucherov and Johnson aren’t injured long-term. Missing one top-six forward is difficult enough. Missing three essentially halves the impact of the Lightning offense. Here’s to hoping Kucherov and Johnson are good to go for Wednesday.
Toronto media and fans must have a complex about their team because too often I see them being surprised that they keep up with the top teams in the league. I guess they fail to see that Toronto is a good f****** team that can make some noise. Toronto was four point behind Tampa Bay entering tonight’s game. Four points—that’s two wins. That is not some insurmountable mountain for them to climb. The Atlantic is stacked at the top with Tampa Bay, Boston, and Toronto all looking like threats. Sure, the Leafs are young (though Tampa isn’t that much older when you look at average age), but this whole hesitance at acknowledging that Toronto is, in fact, a good f****** hockey team that can battle at the top bewilders me. Yes, they have holes. Newsflash—everyone does. Toronto is going to shock people in the playoffs. [I’ll allow the swearing this once. — Acha]