For the first time in this opening round series a team wasn’t able to hold onto a lead. Unfortunately for fans along the west coast of Florida, it was the Tampa Bay Lightning that saw their early 2-goal lead evaporate as the Toronto Maple Leafs scored three consecutive goals over the second and third periods and eventually won, 4-3, on a late goal by Auston Matthews.
The Lightning weathered an early penalty kill and then the big line came through to sap the energy out of the crowd. Nikita Kucherov corralled a bouncing puck just inside the Leafs zone and worked it into the middle of the ice. Ondrej Palat had it hop over it stick, but it went right to The Captain who raked it into the net for the early lead.
Steven Stamkos (Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat) 1-0 Lightning
The Bolts didn’t let up and the third line drew a penalty. It didn’t take long for them to double the lead. They won the face-off (always key to them setting up) and they methodically worked the puck around until it ended up in the slot on Victor Hedman’s stick. A quick wrister found its way past a screened Jack Campbell.
Victor Hedman (Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov) Power Play, 2-1 Lightning
The Lightning kept coming close to adding a third goal, but Campbell continued to foil their attempts. The best chance came on a 5-on-3 for the Bolts as they hounded the net with pucks. This game, however, can flip in an instant and it looked like it might as William Nylander streaked out of the penalty box and pounced on a loose puck. Andrei Vasilevskiy made just his third save of the period with the blocker to keep it 2-0. Toronto did get a little boost after killing off the back-to-back penalties.
That stop by Vasy would loom even larger as Toronto was awarded a couple of late power plays. The Lightning kept up their aggressive marking in the defensive zone and frustrated the Leafs offense. The period would come to an end with score still 2-0 in favor of the Lightning. Unfortunately so would Tampa Bay’s strong play.
Power plays have been plentiful in the series as the two teams have combined for the most penalty minutes any series so far this postseason, and it was on the power play that Toronto found a little life. With the Lightning shorthanded due to a too-many-men on the ice penalty, William Nylander threw the puck in front of the net and it bounced off of John Tavares’ skate and past Vasilevskiy.
John Tavares (William Nylander, Mark Giordano) Power Play, 2-1 Lightning
The early goal was just the beginning for the Maple Leafs as they absolutely dominated the period. Through the 20 minutes they posted 65.79% of the shot attempts, 10 high-danger chances, and a 79.11 xGF% at 5v5 according to Natural Stat Trick. Despite all of that offense Toronto couldn’t find the equalizer thanks in large part to Andrei Vasilevskiy. His teammates did help prevent second chances, but his ability to get into position to make the initial save was on full display during the period.
Despite being under siege for most of the period the Lightning did have a couple of gilt-edged chances on the stick of Nick Paul. He had two glorious breakaway chances, but Campbell withstood the test on both occasions.
Tampa drew an early opportunity in the third as they went on the power play. Unfortunately a careless use of the stick by Stamkos evened things up and Toronto found the tying goal at 4-on-4. John Tavares made a few nice moves down low and the Lightning lost track of their defensive responsibilities. When Erik Cernak stumbled it opened a seam for Tavares to find Morgan Reilly and the defenseman fired it home.
Morgan Reilly (John Tavares, William Nylander) 2-2
With the crowd buzzing, the Leafs completed the comeback as William Nylander ripped a shot past a sliding defenseman and over Vasilevskiy’s glove for the 3-2 lead.
William Nylander (Ilya Mikheyev, Justin Holl) 3-2 Maple Leafs
Just when it seemed like Toronto was going to keep building on their newfound lead Ryan McDonagh stepped up and blasted home just his second playoff goal as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Ryan McDonagh (Ross Colton) 3-3
McDonagh’s goal was the result of his agressive pinch in the offensive zone. The Lightning’s willingness to have their defense step up on plays also has it drawbacks. A few shifts later McDonagh stepped up in the neutral zone and wasn’t able to control the puck. That led to a two-on-one with the two players Toronto would most want in that occasion, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. Marner fired the puck off the pads and it went right to Matthews who buried it for the lead.
Auston Matthews (Mitch Marner, Michael Bunting) 4-3 Maple Leafs
The Lightning pulled the goaltender but couldn’t find the equalizer. Toronto heads to Tampa with a chance to end the series in six games while the Lightning find them in a spot they haven’t been in two seasons - needing to win two games in a row to prevent elimination.