The Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs came into Tuesday night’s contest looking to get a win for different reasons. The Lightning reasons for needing a win were obvious: they are in a dead heat for their pursuit of the Atlantic division title and the number two overall seed in the Eastern conference playoffs, so every point is critical with only thirteen games to play. The Leafs were looking to get a win for a different reason: a win would help showcase their young prospects and allow Toronto to see who they can build around going into next season as they try to resurrect a long storied franchise. Despite their opposite directions the teams are heading this year, the Leafs continue to play fast and physical giving potential playoff teams issues. The Lighting despite beating Toronto in all three previous contests this year have had to compete every period against this young Leafs team who despite being inexperienced brings end to end energy every time they play. By starting Andrei Vasilevskiy in net, the Lightning were hoping to give Ben Bishop a rest before the last weeks of the season, gambling on their excellent backup keeper to get them two critical points against a feisty but bad Leafs team.
The 1st period started with the young Toronto Maple Leafs picking up where they left off the last time these two teams met by bringing fast and steady energy as soon as the puck dropped to start the game. The Leafs were imposing their high energy style early until they would receive a bench penalty for too many men on the ice, giving the Tampa Bay Lightning their first power play of the game. Unfortunately, in what has become an all too familiar theme for the Tampa Bay Lightning power play they would have several opportunities but were unable to convert as the Leafs were able to kill off the man advantage. The Leafs would continue to push the pace as both teams would see several end to end rushes which looked to start the several scoring chances, but kept getting derailed by one errant pass or players over skating the puck before being able to put a shot on net. Both goaltenders Jonathan Bernier for Tornoto and Andrei Vasilevskiy for Tampa would look very comfortable stopping the any of the shots they faced late in the 1st period despite the frenetic pace of the game. The teams would head to the locker rooms tied 0-0 and both having only five shots on goal apiece despite the fast pace of the 1st period.
The 2nd period would start with the Toronto Maple Leafs again taking an early penalty as defenseman Frank Carrado would interfere with Lightning center Tyler Johnson, giving Tampa their second power play of the game. Tampa’s second power play would see Victor Hedman would fire a shot off the Maple Leaf right post but after the Hedman ‘doink’; they were not able to test Bernier in any meaningful way. The teams would return to even strength and resume the end to end skating that dominated the 1st period of play. Victor Hedman would again try to break the scoreless tie early in the 2nd period, after he took a pass at the blue line and let a huge slap shot go but Jonathan Bernier would make a great pad save to keep it scoreless. Andrei Vasilevksiy would take his turn making a huge save as he would stop Toronto center Peter Holland who was all alone on a breakaway; keeping the game tied at 0-0 midway through the 2nd period. The Maple Leafs would finally break the scoring draught when Connor Carrick would blast a bouncing puck past Andrei Vasilevskiy, giving Toronto the 1-0 lead with about seven minutes to go in the 2nd period. The Lightning would continue to struggle against the young Leafs as Jonathan Marchessault would take a slashing penalty after getting beat for a puck, setting up Toronto’s first power play of the night. Tampa’s penalty kill unit who has been the top special teams unit in the league since the 1st of January would do their job and kill the first Leaf’s power play of the night. Steven Stamkos would prevent any chance of Tampa trying to get an equalizer before the end of the period as he would take a tripping penalty in the last minutes of the period; setting up Toronto with their second power play of the night. The Tampa penalty kill would get their team to the end of the period only down one goal but would still have 1:12 left on the Stamkos penalty to kill once the 3rd period started. The Leafs would take their 1-0 lead into the break along with a 15-11 shots on goal advantage after two periods.
The 3rd period began with the Tampa Bay Lightning attempting to kill the rest of the Steven Stamkos tripping penalty from the 2nd period. Tampa defenseman Anton Stralman would make a terrific play stopping an early scoring chance but would take an unnecessary boarding penalty right after setting up Toronto with a five on three power play for 43 seconds. The Leafs would pass the puck effectively with the two-man advantage, but were unable to put anything past Vasilevskiy allowing the Lightning to kill the rest of the Stamkos penalty. The Tampa penalty kill would continue their impressive play along with Andrei Vasilevskiy making two scintillating saves to kill the rest of the Toronto power play and finally getting the teams back to even strength early in the 3rd period. Toronto center Peter Holland would take issue after a legal hit by Steven Stamkos and attempt to put Stamkos in a headlock while head butting him before both players would wrestle one another to the ice. The refs would quickly send both players to the box for roughing but would an extra two minutes to Hollland for instigating the scrum. The lightning’s subsequent third power play of the night would go as poorly as their previous two and the Leafs would kill off another power play keeping their 1-0 lead early in the 3rd period. Tampa veteran Brian Boyle would finally break the scoring draught for Tampa as he would take an Anton Stralman pass and blast it past Bernier to tie the game at 1-1 early in the 3rd period. The Lightning looked reinvigorated after Boyle’s goal but the celebration would be cut short as Leaf forward Michael Grabner would fire a shot on Vasilevskiy and Toronto forward Ben Smith push in the rebound for his first goal of the year along with giving the Maple Leafs the lead again at 2-1 midway through the 3rd period. The Lightning would continue to press for another equalizer but Jonathan Bernier would stop both Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov at close range to keep the one goal lead late in the 3rd period. Lightning winger Ryan Callahan sensing his team needed a jolt of energy took issue with Maple Leaf winger P.A. Parenteau laying a hit on him and both players would tumble to the ice; receiving matching penalties for their efforts. Bolts coach Jon Cooper wasted little time pulling Andrei Vasilevskiy with a little under three minutes remaining in the game as the teams played four on four hockey due to the double minor penalties to both teams. The Lightning could not convert on the five on four advantage again on the night, and Leaf Zach Hyman would bury the empty net goal all but guaranteeing a Toronto victory with a little over a minute left to play in the game. Tampa would pull Vasilevskiy again for the rest of the game, and the Leafs would add a 2nd empty netter from P.A. Parenteau to give them a 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning would out shoot the Leafs 27-24, but most of those shots would come late as Tampa was trying to tie the game.
The Lightning would drop to 40-25-5, with 85 points. The Maple Leafs would improve to 23-34-11, with 59 points on the year.
The Lightning will continue their road trip as they head to Dallas on Thursday March 17th, to face the Dallas Stars. The game can be seen locally on SUN sports with a 8:30 pm puck drop.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
- Ben Smith – The youngster scored his first goal of the season tonight which would be the game winner; he also chipped in anassist on the empty net goal that sealed the win.
- Peter Holland– Absolutely frustrated the Lightning all over the ice tonight, whether it was taking Stamkos off the ice for dual penalties, irritating Ryan Callahan with checks along the boards, or providing an assist on Toronto’s first goal, Holland did everything the Leafs needed tonight.
- Andrei Vasilevskiy– You have to feel for Vasilevskiy as he put together back to back excellent outings, and has no wins to show for it. Andrei has looked anything but a backup goalie his last two contests but unfortunately his team has not provided him with a lead or even a consistent effort to aid his great play. Andrei only allowed two goals tonight, one of which no goalie could have stopped; he was not the reason Tampa lost tonight.
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