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Disappointing Atlantic Division Loss for Lightning

The last few seasons, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning have played each other in some meaningful games. Aside from the playoffs, where the Leafs currently have bragging rights, we’ve seen some tough regular season battles. There’s no question the chip on the shoulder is in the Tampa locker room. I’m expecting a game where checks are finished, shots are blocked and some colorful language exchanged. This may be as early a playoff atmosphere as we’ve seen in these parts in a long time. Despite being winless in three straight before winning Thursday against Vancouver, the Lightning are undefeated at home. Will that streak continue? Which team will battle harder between these two Atlantic Division foes? 

Jonas Johansson starts in net for the Lightning, Ilya Samsonov for the Maple Leafs. The star power on both teams should make this a premier NHL game

Straight From the Jump

From the opening puck drop, both teams were seriously attacking this game. Full house at Amalie, the energy in the building seemed to feed the players on the ice. A few ticks after the four minute mark of the period, Toronto struck first. William Nylander found a bouncing puck on the end of his stick. He made no mistake, Johansson got a good 75% of that puck. Problem was that 25% of the puck deflected off Johansson and into Tampa’s net. Leafs up 1-0. 

If the Lightning were negatively affected, it didn’t show. They continued to play with a little giddy-up and it shortly paid off. Two minutes after the opening goal, Nikita Kucherov tied the game while the team was on the power play. After getting the puck under control in the Leafs zone, Victor Hedman passed the puck to Kucherov on the right dot. Kucherov immediately passed it to Brayden Point in the slot tapped it right back to Kucherov who fired it towards Samsonov. The Kucherov one-timer went into the net untouched. New ball game as we’re all tied up at one.

Two Points For the Taking

Now that the game is tied, the back and forth went as expected. Toronto was getting the majority of the shots but really couldn’t muster a strong attack. Things soon became much tougher for tonight’s visitors. Alex Barre-Boulet on an offensive rush with Point and Kucherov found himself gliding right in front of Toronto’s net unchecked. Point on the right sent the puck to Kucherov on the left side. The pass was a little behind Kucherov making it difficult to shoot but it made it easy for Kucherov to pass. He hit a wide open Barre-Boulet who tapped it through Samsonov’s five hole to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead.

The Lightning kept their foot on the pedal. It is more accurate to say that the team jumped on Kucherov’s shoulders as he was taking over this game. Three minutes after taking the lead on Barre-Boulet’s goal, the Leafs committed another penalty. Four seconds into the ensuing power play, Kucherov snapped a one-timer past Samsonov. Not only did the Lightning increase their lead to 3-1, Kucherov chased Samsonov out of the game. He was replaced by Joseph Woll. 

Seconds Anyone?

So far this young season, the middle period has not been very good for the Lightning. If they want to continue their first period performance, this trend has to change. Three minutes into the period, the Leafs put the Lightning back on the power play. What a chance to increase this lead. A little over a minute into this power play, Toronto committed another penalty giving the Lightning a 5-3 man advantage. Despite this fantastic opportunity, the second period power play only tallied two shots on goal. Their first period version scored two goals on two shots. 

Give credit to the Leafs. If they can make it back into this game as it approaches the halfway point, the 5-3 penalty kill will be the turning point. Whatever momentum Toronto picked up from the PK evaporated soon after. In the four minutes after their kill, the Lightning out shot the Leafs 2-1. For the second half of the second period, both teams had some good looks but couldn’t convert any of those to goals. So, after 40 minutes, the Lightning still held on to their 3-1 lead.

Hard 20 to Get a Tough 2

The Lightning had to expect the Leafs were not going to go away with a whimper. Whatever compete level Toronto has was going to be evident in the last period. Sure, they were getting shots at Johansson, 28 through the first two periods but the Tampa netminder was holding steady.  For the first half of the final regulation period, the Leafs outshot the Lightning 12 to 4. 

Still, Johansson stood tall and did not allow a shot past him. Then with 7:49 left in the period, Matthew Knies snapped a laser past Johansson to cut the Lightning lead down to one goal at 3-2. Now, with seven minutes left, it is crunch time for both teams. Toronto has to knuckle down to attempt to tie the game and the Lightning need to bear this expected onslaught and keep them off the score sheet. That lasted all of two minutes as Knies scored his second goal of the game to tie it at three with 5:27 left in the period. That tying goal sucked the energy out of the building. 

Kucherov had a decent chance near the end of regulation but couldn’t control a bouncing puck enough to get a good shot off on Woll. So, off to overtime we go all knotted up at three.

So Over Overtime

In the 3 on 3 overtime, puck possession is critical. It’s a five minute period of a long change so if you are caught playing defense, it could cause problems. Players can get caught playing extra long shifts with no easy way to come off the ice. Toronto won the opening face off and kept the puck. Shift changes were difficult for the Lightning to say the least. 

Even the few times that the Lightning did take away the puck, they didn’t hold it very long. Ultimately, this did them in. Toronto had 7 shots in the overtime, the Lightning had none. The 7th shot turned into a lucky 7 for the visiting team. John Tavares knocked in a pass from Nylander with 55 seconds remaining in overtime for the game winner. In their first meeting of the new season, Toronto takes the game 4-3 in overtime.

Three Stars

  1. Nikita Kucherov – 2 goals and 1 assist 
  2. Matthew Knies – 2 goals and 1 assist
  3. Joseph Woll – Toronto goalie sent in to replace starter, Ilya Samsonov in the first period saved all 29 shots he faced.

What’s Next

Tuesday night at Amalie hosting the Carolina Hurricanes. Puck drops at 7:00 pm.

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