It wasn’t a must win but a close relative. Tonight’s Game 4 between the Lightning and Maple Leafs was a game the home team should win. Win and the series comes down to a best of three. Lose and Tampa heads to Toronto down three games to one.
A mentor of mine taught me many lessons. One that stuck was his daily approach to work. He taught me there are things you must do. Then things you should do and finally things that would be nice to do.
Translating this theory to the ice, the first game of a series would be a nice win. Home games are should wins. There is a contingent of Lightning fans who think every game is a must win. The only real must win in the NHL is a playoff elimination. Tonight’s game was a should win for the Lightning.
Top of the First
From the opening puck drop, the Lightning had an energy not seen often in this series. Sixty seconds into the game, Steven Stamkos fired a missile of a slap shot from the high slot. Toronto goalie Jack Campbell never saw it and Tampa was up 1-0. Off to a great start for the home team.
The jump from the Lightning players didn’t stop. They had the visitors back on their heels. A little under five minutes after the Stamkos goal, fourth line center P.E. Bellemare put the puck past Campbell for the Lightning’s second goal.
If there was any thought on Toronto’s bench to get one of those goals back, that came crashing down in less than three minutes. Pat Maroon scored the third Lightning goal and second consecutive fourth line goal to make the score 3-0. Now, it was looking like a rout.
In the waning minutes of the initial period, a tripping penalty was called on Erik Cernak. This gave the league’s best power play units a chance to cut the lead. Despite a ton of zone time, the Leafs couldn’t put one on the board. The question now is can the Lightning play solid enough defense to get this win.
Still Too Much Time Remaining
As the second period began, questions abound. Was there any fight left on the Maple Leafs bench? Was the Lightning defense going to play better than in the two series losses? Would the Lightning be satisfied with three goals or were they intent on making a statement before the teams headed back to Toronto. Never a bad thing to put doubt in the minds and hearts of playoff opponents.
The answers were revealed quickly. Three minutes into the middle frame, Ross Colton snapped a shot past Campbell for the Lightning’s fourth unanswered goal. Then about two minutes later more answers were revealed. Unfortunately, for Toronto like the play on the ice , the answers were tilted in the Lightning favor.
This time it was Corey Perry in his office in front of the net on the power play to put Tampa up 5-0. How apropos that the Lightning’s fourth line of veterans leading the way with all three each scoring a goal with more than half a game left to play.
Perry’s goal forced a goalie change by Toronto, Campbell was pulled in favor of Erik Kallgren.
We did see a few 4 on 4 opportunities which might have given the speedy Leafs a chance but there were no goals for the visitors. After 40 minutes of play it was all Lightning. Up 5-0 and only allowing 14 shots from the high powered Toronto offense. The only remaining question was how large the margin of victory would be.
Does Toronto Have Any Fight
The third period saw Toronto muster up a goal.in the opening minutes. William Nylander redirected a slap pass from Auston Matthews to close the gap to 5-1. Still a nice cushion for the home team. Yet, the Leafs were not about to go away quietly. They sent a message to the Lightning that they had some fight left. At about the 12 minute mark of the period, Nylander scored his second goal of the game to make it a 5-2 Lightning lead.
With just under six minutes left, Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe pulled their goalie Kallgren. Maybe it was desperation for the Leafs and it backfired big time. Ondrej Palat scored an empty netter with about five minutes left in regulation.
Good thing because Toronto didn’t quit. A minute after Palat’s goal, Jake Muzzin blasted a shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy to bring the score to 6-3. After Toronto pulled their goalie again in an attempt to get back in this game, Ross “Freakin’” Colton scored another empty netter to close the scoring in this wild game 7-3. In a game the Lightning should win, they won huge.
Three Stars of the Game
First Star – Ross Colton – 2 goals. His first made it 4-0 and took the winds out of Toronto’s sails and his second iced the game in the frenetic third period.
Second Star – Brandon Hagel – 2 assists, two takeaways and probably the faster player on the ice
Third Star – Tampa’s Fourth Line – Bellemare, Perry and Maroon combined to score 3 goals, 7 hits, 2 blocks and 2 takeaways and Bellemare won 56% of his faceoffs.
This series is now the best two out of three. The good news for the Lightning, they already won one in Toronto and coming off tonight’s impressive win should carry them into Game 5. The bad news is Toronto had to be embarrassed by their Game 4 showing and will look to take the series lead. The only question left in this series is: Which team wants it more.
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