John Tavares registered his first playoff hat trick as the Toronto Maple Leafs flipped the script on the Tampa Bay Lightning with a resounding 7-2 victory on Thursday to even their first-round playoff series 1-1. The Maple Leafs garnered an impressive response after being routed in Game 1.
Led by Tavares, the Toronto offense came out strong as the Leafs found themselves in an early must-win situation at home. Mitch Marner scored twice while adding an assist, and William Nylander and Zach Aston-Reese rounded out the Leafs’ scoring.
Toronto’s big names also stepped up their game after floundering last Tuesday. Morgan Reilly tallied four assists to tie the franchise record. Auston Matthews added two assists of his own.
Defensively, Toronto goalie Ilya Samsonov made 20 saves after being pulled following a disastrous start in Game 1.
Toronto scored early to set the upbeat tempo when Marner put one past Andrei Vasilevskiy only 47 seconds into the game. Facing an o-2 deficit, the Maple Leafs never looked back after that, registering two more goals in the opening period.
Tavares leads a desperate push
The Tampa Bay Lighting are 10-0 in the playoffs after taking a 2-0 series lead, and the Maple Leafs were resilient in ensuring that they would head to Tampa with the series even at 1. With the loss of suspended forward Michael Bunting after Tuesday’s elbowing incident against Eric Cernak, rookie Matthew Knies made his playoff debut for Toronto.
Toronto struggled last year against the Lighting and have not advanced out of the First ROunce since 2004. The threat of another first round early exit was already resonating in the rafters of Scotiabank Arena entering Thursday night.
The Maple Leaf faithful, desolate Tuesday night, rose up Thursday as Toronto played strong from the opening puck drop. The crowd was visibly shaken after Tuesday night, and lauded the Leafs after a far more impressive performance Thursday.
The Leafs struggled for a moment in the second period when Bolts’ defenseman Ian Cole scored near the halfway point. Tavares buried his second goal a few minutes later to quell any resurgence by the visiting Lightning.
COLESY WITH THE BACKHANDER pic.twitter.com/mbITNLCtcN
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) April 21, 2023
Tavares would then complete the hat trick in the third period.
Corey Perry Continues to Impress
Despite a lackluster offensive performance by Tampa Bay Thursday, Lightning playoff veteran Corey Perry added his second goal of the series late in the third period.
Perry has quickly become the unlikely hero on the Bolts’ side of the pendulum swing after two games. Following his late goal, Perry tangled with Justin Holl before both were sent to their respective locker rooms early.
The chippiness between teams was evident early as Toronto’s Mark Giordano and Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon squared off in the first period. Former Bolt Luke Schenn and Lighting forward Tanner Jeannot also dropped gloves in the third period.
Andrei Vasilevskiy refused to leave the game despite giving up seven goals on 37 shots. Despite drawing the ire of the home Toronto fan base throughout the night, Vasilevskiy resisted head coach Jon Cooper’s thought of pulling the goalie after a rough start.
Along with the injured Cernak, the Lightning were without some other key names in Game 2. Victor Hedman sat out Thursday night after suffering an undisclosed injury suffered in Game 1. Bolts center Michael Eyssimont also was scratched following a Game 1 injury.
The return of Jannot to the roster Thursday after an injury suffered earlier this month was a bright spot in what some consider to be a bad streak of injuries plaguing the team.
Three Stars of the Game
John Tavares, Toronto. Tavares is such a dangerous threat for the Maple Leafs. Often overlooked by the praises of Auston Matthews, Tavares steps up big tonight to draw the series even.
Mitch Marner, Toronto. Marner set the pace early and restored the energy that Toronto was lacking in Game 1.
Ilya Samsonov, Toronto. After being pulled in Game 1, no one could have asked for a better outcome for Samsonov than his impressive performance in net Thursday.
The series comes to Amalie Arena in Tampa tied at one apiece Saturday night at 7pm. The Lightning hope to rebound and use the new home ice advantage to their benefit.
Follow the Tampa Bay Lightning as they journey through the Stanley Cup Playoffs on The Scrum Sports.
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