Playing their third game in four nights, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked to continue their impressive run. Heading into Thursday’s contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Lightning were 12-2-3 in their previous 17 games. However, they were playing their fourth game in six nights. The Leafs were coming off a 7-2 loss to Florida two nights before.
This game had all the makings of a trap. Only one point separated the two teams. At the end of the night, one point still separated the Bolts and Leafs.
At the beginning of the night, Tampa Bay held that one-point edge. When the final horn sounded, the Maple Leafs found themselves ahead of the Bolts by a single point. As a result, the race for the last playoff spot in the East got way more interesting.
The Maple Leafs (32-23-14) blitzed the Lightning (34-27-9) with a four-goal second period, three of them in a span of 3:50, en route to a 5-0 victory at Amalie Arena. Five different Leafs players scored and goalie Frederik Andersen finished with 33 saves for the shutout. Andrei Vasilevskiy suffered his first regulation loss since the trade of Ben Bishop, allowing four goals on 15 shots before getting pulled in the second period. Tampa Bay now has 77 points with 12 games remaining, while Toronto has 78 with a game in hand.
The Maple Leafs controlled play early on, despite both teams having good looks at the net. Vasilevskiy kept the Bolts in it early when he stopped a one-timer from outside of the crease by Connor Brown. Unfortunately for the Lightning, he wasn’t able to corral a shot by Roman Polak at the 9:19 mark.
Tyler Bozak won a faceoff and got the puck back to Polak. Polak fired a one-timer that hit Vasilevskiy in the shoulder and popped up into the air, landing behind the Lightning goaltender. While it was in the air, the Leafs’ James van Riemsdyk tried to bat it in, but was unsuccessful. The puck hit the ice and proceeded to roll into the Lightning net, putting Toronto up 1-0 on Polak’s fourth of the season. Tampa Bay got their fair share of shots in the first 20 minutes, but didn’t spend much time in the Maple Leafs’ zone and didn’t get any second-chance opportunities.
The Lightning’s energy level was lacking. The Leafs consistently beat them to loose pucks. Tampa Bay didn’t clear Toronto players out of the front of Vasilevskiy. When the Bolts had good looks at the net, their shots either went wide or Andersen was there to make the save.
Morgan Rielly extended Toronto’s lead to 2-0 at the 2:24 mark. Rielly let a shot go from the point with a screen in front, and the puck squeezed itself under Vasilevskiy’s pad and into the net for Rielly’s fifth of the season. Fifteen seconds later, Matt Hunwick fired another point shot that Matt Martin redirected into the net for a 3-0 lead.
Only 3:35 later, Connor Brown increased the Leafs’ lead to 4-0 with a power play goal. Leo Komarov collected a rebound of a William Nylander shot and slid the puck to Brown in the slot. Brown knocked it home for his 16th of the season and Vasilevskiy was pulled in favor of Peter Budaj.
Toronto extended their lead to 5-0 when James van Riemsdyk potted his 22nd goal off a rebound in front at the 15:41 mark, taking all of the air out of the Lightning fans and giving Leafs fans plenty to cheer about.
During the third period, the Lightning out-shot Toronto 12-2 and played with more energy, but by then, it was too little, too late. Even though they had the edge in shots, they didn’t force Andersen to make many tough saves. As a result, the Lightning’s four-game winning streak came to an end.
The Lightning look to rebound on Saturday night when they host the Washington Capitals in the second game of a three-game homestand. Puck drops at 7 pm.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Frederik Andersen – Stopped 33 shots for his fourth shutout of the season.
2nd Star: Morgan Rielly – Tallied a goal and an assist.
3rd Star: Roman Polak – Opened the scoring in the first period.
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