Doesn’t matter what sport, who the players are but a Game 7 is significant. The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs played a Game 7 Saturday night. There would be no tomorrow for one of these teams. That’s what happens in the final game of a series. One team goes on and one team goes home. The team moving on had Nick Paul on their roster.
Most fans of both teams expected their team to advance. Some fans of each team were concerned their boys wouldn’t. One group was going to be elated and the other was going to be crying in their beverage of choice.
Nick Paul and his Opening Act
The game started slowly and it took a few minutes before we saw the first shot of the game. It was clear that the Lightning game plan was defense first. Even Corey Perry laid out on the ice to block a shot in the opening minutes. This started to smell like a theme.
Conventional wisdom says in a Game 7 the referees swallow their whistle. The assigned refs in tonight’s game apparently didn’t get that memo. Brandon Hagel was called for a tripping penalty which resulted in a Toronto power play. They were ineffective with the extra man so on they went. A few minutes later, the Leafs Mark Giordano was whistled for a delay of game. Now it was the Lightning’s turn to falter on the power play.
Still, the game was scoreless. In the waning minutes of the first period, Brayden Point made an awkward stop and seemed to tweak his right leg. Right before the period ended, Nick Paul put in a one handed rebound shot past goalie Jack Campbell to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead. That’s how the period ended.
— Lightning Radio (@BoltsRadio) May 15, 2022
20 Minutes Down, 40 To Go
As the second period started, Point was on the bench easing some concerns. Hopefully, he would make his way onto the ice. Two minutes into the period, Point took a shift but was clearly trying to play past the pain. He didn’t stay the full shift and we didn’t see him take the ice anymore this evening.
Back and forth the game went. The Maple Leafs had some zone time then the Lightning had some chances. Then it appeared as if John Tavares tied the game with about 12 minutes remaining in the period. That goal was immediately waved off due to an interference penalty called on Justin Holl. The crowd began catcalling the refs but the score remained 1-0. The ensuing power play yielded plenty of offensive zone time but no goal.
Ultimately, with six minutes left in the period the Leafs tied the game at one. With Point’s health in question and the momentum and the crowd in their favor, the Leafs were trying to find the nail for the Lightning coffin. After a huge save by Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning had an odd man rush. Lighting the lamp for the second time tonight, Paul flicked the puck past Campbell giving Tampa a 2-1 lead. This gave the Lightning some life and Nikita Kucherov hit the pipe missing by inches. That would have put Tampa up by two. Toronto had a big push at the end of the period but the score remained 2-1.
— Lightning Radio (@BoltsRadio) May 15, 2022
No Turds in the Third
Heading into the final period, the Lightning had to feel good. Despite not having Point on the ice they were up by one goal. You knew the Leafs were going to push hard once the final period began. The Lightning defense was ready. Everyone was blocking shots. They were digging in and taking no prisoners.
After the initial Toronto push, Paul who had both Lightning goals was pushing for a hat trick. He very nearly got it but ended up taking a header into the net. Toronto persisted trying desperately to tie it before the final horn.This game was turning into a nail biter. With 13:41 left in the game, Toronto went on the power play. They had multiple high danger chances but came away with no goals.
Game 7’s are the very definition of intense. This game had a level of intensity that grew as each minute of play evaporated. Still 2-1 with five minutes remaining and the quiet desperation on the part of the Leaf players was growing. You could see it in their faces and in the faces in the crowd.
As the clock ticked down to 2:45 remaining, Campbell was pulled for the extra skater. The last gasp for the home team was coming. In waves, Vasilevskiy was making saves and his mates in front of him were laying it all on the line with block after block on the Maple Leafs onslaught. Finally the last tick of the clock and the loud groan of the crowd happened simultaneously. Game 7 of the First Round belonged to the reigning Stanley Cup Champs. Their reward? A followup to last year’s first round against the President’s Trophy winner – The Florida Panthers.
First Star: Nick Paul – Scored both Lightning goals, led the forwards in ice time with 22:03
Second Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – The Big Cat played Big Time with 30 saves in 31 shots
Third Star: Anthony Cirelli – Aside from blanketing Auston Matthews most of the night, he led the team with 5 blocks. Also had 3 hits.
The Lightning move on to play in the Second Round against the Florida Panthers in a rematch of last year’s playoff series won by the Lightning 4 games to 2. Schedule to be announced after the remaining series are complete on Sunday,
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