The Tampa Bay Lightning could not overcome a two-goal deficit and the Toronto Maple Leafs showed off their defensive prowess with a 4-1 victory on Tuesday night. As with most of the contests between these two teams, it was a close contest throughout, with the Leafs clinging to a one-goal lead late into the game before two empty-net goals provided a comfortable winning margin. Vlad Namestnikov had the lone goal for the Lightning while Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 36 of 38 shots.
Mikhail Sergachev and Zach Bogosian returned to the line-up while Haydn Fleury and Cal Foote had the night off.
Up through the first T.V. timeout there was a sense of the teams testing each other’s defense. There was a lot of speed on the ice as both teams had free passes through the neutral zone, but it didn’t translate into that much offense. The best chance for the Lightning was an early stuff chance for Brayden Point while Jonathan Tavares ripped a shot wide from a quality spot.
While the pace was chaotic at times, both teams were recovering well and the Bolts were clearing away second chances while the Leafs were blocking initial chances. Vasy did make big blocker saves on Alex Kerfoot and Tavares before stoning Auston Matthews who had snuck behind the defense.
The Leafs were driving play and eventually they were rewarded as Michael Bunting roofed one from the top of the slot past a screened Vasilevskiy. It’s not a shot that has been beating Vasy of late, but it was still a good idea for Bunting to throw it on net as he had teammates in front after Sergachev’s attempted clear was picked off.
Michael Bunting (William Nylander) 1-0 Lightning
high slot, top cheese— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 21, 2022
good retrieval by Nylander pic.twitter.com/lSFN5ZXur2
The Lightning tried a similar tactic, as Nick Perbix flipped a shot towards the net with Corey Perry in front. Murray made the save, but at least the Lightning registered a shot on goal for the first time in over 12 minutes.
Defense for the Lightning deteriorated in the final moments of the period as Ian Cole tripped William Nylander. That led to a penalty and an extended sequence of shot attempts by Toronto. Nothing went in the net and Bunting and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare took matching roughing calls at the end of the period following a big hit by Bellemare.
The only team that can score power play goals against the Lightning these days is the Leafs. They wasted little time as Matthews wristed a shot into the top corner that Vasilevskiy won’t see until they review the game tape on Wednesday.
Auston Matthews (Rasmus Sandin, Mitch Marner) Power Play, 2-0 Maple Leafs
Without any sustained pressure at 5v5, the Lightning needed to see what they could do with a power play. Off of a face-off, Steven Stamkos drove the net and couldn’t stretch it past Murray, but did draw a penalty.
There was a little zone time, but the closest the Lightning came to putting the puck in the net is when Stamkos almost tapped it into his own cage on a backcheck. Tampa Bay didn’t register a shot on net as Toronto blocked a few attempts and the rest were ripped wide.
With the lines now mixed a bit (Kucherov dropped to the second line) the Lightning were getting a little more pressure, but Toronto was still absolutely solid in their own zone. Passing lanes were covered, shots were blocked, and the puck was out of the zone quickly.
Toronto had a chance to make it 3-0 when Tavares got leverage on Sergachev and was able to break in alone on Vasilevskiy. The Lightning netminder gave him nothing and Tavares couldn’t even get a shot off. If the Lightning come back in the game, the save of the game may not even be a save.
Tavares can't get Vasilevskiy to bite pic.twitter.com/ZgXPNR8O1c— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 21, 2022
The final frame started with the Lightning with the Leafs controlling pretty much every aspect of the game. At 5v5 scoring chances were 17-7 in favor of the home team and high-danger chances were 6-4. Of the 21 even strength shot attempts the Lightning had, Toronto blocked 7 of them.
With the way the Leafs were controlling the middle of the ice in their own zone, it would be imperative for the Lightning to start getting some puck retrievals off of shots so they could get the defenders chasing a bit and open up some space.
The Stamkov line (Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Vlad Namestnikov) were reunited and they had a solid first shift. Then an even better second shift. Off of a face-off, Namestnikov got a backhand on net and then pushed his own rebound home past Murray. All of a sudden it was a one-shot game.
Vlad Namestnikov (Steven Stamkos) 2-1 Maple Leafs
After putting just eight shots on net in the first two periods, the Lightning had nine in the first six minutes of the third period. Making Matt Murray work is always a path to success. It also helps when Pontus Holmberg finds iron instead of net on a shot that beat Vasilevskiy.
There was bound to be a push back from the Leafs and midway through the period it was the Matthews line causing a ruckus. First Auston turned the corner on Erik Cernak but was denied by Vasilevskiy. Then he saw a wrister turned aside by the netminder.
The School Bus Line had a solid shift that saw Pat Maroon chip one over the net and Ian Cole bang one off the pads. Toronto’s defense was bending at this point, but the Lightning couldn’t find the equalizer and Vasilevskiy had to make a couple of more stops.
Coach Cooper waited until about the two-minute mark to pull the goaltender and it didn’t take long for the Leafs to find it. Pierre Engvall put it home after a turnover by the Bolts in the Leafs zone. With the way Toronto had been hounding the puck all night, it wasn’t shocking that they’d be able to get a chance at the empty net.
William Nylander added one more empty net goal to make it 4-1 and secure the win for the Maple Leafs.