Fresh off of two consecutive losses to conclude a three game road trip, the Tampa Bay Lightning arrived home looking to get back on track. Unfortunately, special teams proved to be their downfall in a 4-3 defeat to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This was a battle of two angry teams. The Lightning were coming off a 7-3 shellacking at the hands of the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night, while the Maple Leafs arrived in town on the heels of an embarrassing 6-3 debacle that became the talk of the hockey world for days leading up to this game. Clearly, Toronto had the extra motivation, something that showed in this game.
Big saves early boost Lightning
With the Leafs ready to go and the Bolts still trying to get their legs moving after a road trip that spanned two time zones, Andrei Vasilevskiy had to be sharp early on. He was, stopping both Zach Hyman and John Tavares.
That gave Tampa Bay a chance to get into the flow of the game. Newcomer Zach Bogosian nearly beat Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen, but the veteran was able to get a piece of the blast from downtown and deflect it out of harms way.
Midway through the first period, the Lightning drew first blood. Using a relentless forecheck, Victor Hedman forced Toronto into a turnover. He then passed the puck to captain Steven Stamkos, who made a highlight-reel pass over to Nikita Kucherov. The reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner didn’t miss, firing the puck past Andersen for the game opening goal. With that tally, Kucherov reached 30 goals in a season for the fifth time in his young career.
Refusing to go away without a fight, the Maple Leafs tied the game at one about four minutes later. Frederik Gauthier beat two Bolts to the loose puck behind Tampa Bay’s net. He then passed to Jason Spezza who found a trailing Jake Muzzin, with the latter firing a slap shot past a screened Vasilevskiy.
Penalty parade proves costly for Lightning
With five minutes to go before the first intermission, the Lightning needed to avoid slipping back into bad habits. They couldn’t, as another newbie, Blake Coleman, was sent to the penalty box for slashing. That sent Toronto to the power play, the one area they have consistently shined this season.
Early on, the kill was getting the job done. Deadline day acquisition Barclay Goodrow, who arrived in Tampa early Tuesday morning from San Jose, made a nice play to knock the puck out of the offensive zone.
Sadly, that didn’t last. As the penalty time was winding down, Tyson Barrie‘s shot deflected off of Tavares’ stick and beat Vasilevskiy to give the Maple Leafs a slim 2-1 lead.
Not long after Toronto took the lead, Kevin Shattenkirk took his first of three penalties on the night. This one didn’t cost the Bolts, but it wasn’t a good omen for things to come.
Leafs Power play continues to kill momentum for Lightning
The middle frame started out better for the Lightning, as they had the Maple Leafs chasing. That pressure led to an interference call on Alexander Kerfoot, sending the Bolts to their first power play of the night. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay’s struggles with the man advantage continued, with Toronto getting most of the chances shorthanded.
Shortly after the Kerfoot penalty expired, the Lightning found themselves back on the power play when the Leafs were called for too many men on the ice. They continued their trend of giving the opponent almost all of the chances. Muzzin barely missed, while Mitch Marner just missed connecting with Hyman, or this game could have gotten out of control on the scoreboard before reaching the midway point.
Top line prowess leads to tying goal
Finally back playing 5-on-5, the Lightning’s top line went to work around Andersen’s net. Kucherov tried to surprise Andersen, coming from behind the net to shoot, but was stopped. Stamkos then collected the rebound and attempted to push the puck under the netminders pads, but was denied.
A few minutes later, their hard work paid off. Shattenkirk’s shot through traffic was deflected by Cedric Paquette and then Patrick Maroon past Andersen to tie the game at two apiece.
Defensive breakdown costs Lightning
Less than a minute after Maroon tied the game, a breakdown defensively allowed Tavares to put a move on Bogosian and score to retake the lead at 3-2.
Kasperi Kapanen then got an odd-man rush but was stopped by Vasilevskiy.
Late period penalty proves costly once again
With the second period winding to a close, the Lightning again needed to play smart hockey. They weren’t able to, however, as Shattenkirk received two minor penalties for high-sticking and slashing. That gave the Maple Leafs an extended power play.
Toronto scored in the first half of it, as William Nylander showed his slick hand moves by using his stick to shovel the puck up and place it under the bar behind Vasilevskiy for a 4-2 lead.
Injury bug bites
As the teams started the final 20 minutes, it was noticed that Steven Stamkos wasn’t on the Lightning bench. It later came out that he wouldn’t return to the game, providing yet another hit to a Bolts team that has faced one injury after another after another throughout the month of February.
Coach Jon Cooper said after the game that they would have to see, as this is an injury that’s been lingering.
The Maple Leafs also lost Muzzin to a hand injury, so it seems like the injury bug has bitten both teams.
Relentless pressure reaps reward for Lightning
Controlling play for much of the final 20 minutes, the Lightning were finally rewarded when Yanni Gourde tipped a Shattenkirk shot past Andersen nearly eight minutes in. Goodrow registered his first point as a Bolt, getting the secondary assist. That made it 4-3.
Tampa Bay kept the pressure on, but failed to get another puck past the Maple Leafs goaltender. Ultimately falling by a final score of 4-3.
Our Three Stars of the Game:
1.) John Tavares- Two goals.
2.) Nikita Kucherov- One goal and a number of chances.
3.) William Nylander-Game-winning goal.
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