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The Lightning jumped out to a quick start in their opening-round playoff series, scoring three first-period goals and cruising to a 7-3 victory over the Maple Leafs in Game 1 Tuesday night in Toronto.
Brayden Point netted two goals, and Tampa Bay scored four times on the power play to take a one-game lead in the best-of-seven series heading into Game 2 Thursday at Scotiabank Arena.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored on a rebound of a Corey Perry shot just over a minute into the game, and Anthony Cirelli put back a Brandon Hagel shot six minutes later to put the Lightning ahead 2-0. Nikita Kucherov added a power-play goal in the closing seconds of the period on a one-timer from the right circle.
Ryan O’Reilly and William Nylander scored power-play goals in the first 14 minutes of the second to bring the Maple Leafs back to within one. But Point (twice) and Perry got the goals back and more with man-advantage goals of their own in the final five-plus minutes of the period, extending the Lightning lead to 6-2.
Tampa Bay’s Ross Colton and Toronto’s Calle Jarnkrok exchanged scores in the third.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 28 of the 31 shots he faced. Two of the three goals he allowed came on the power play.
Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting received a game misconduct for an illegal hit to the head of Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak late in the second period. Cernak, defenseman Victor Hedman and forward Mikey Eyssimont all left the game with injuries and did not return.
Here’s how it happened:
Rookie Joseph Woll replaces Ilya Samsonov in the Toronto net
The teams are back at even strength
Maple Leafs power play: Mikhail Sergachev penalized for slashing Sam Lafferty (16:34 left in period)
Morgan Rielly wrist shot from center point deflected up out of play by Andrei Vasilevskiy
Mitch Marner shot from right point tipped in front from John Tavares, but Vasilevskiy makes the stop
William Nylander gets loose in front, but his shot is deflected wide
LIGHTNING GOAL! Ross Colton scores on a breakaway after taking a stretch pass from Nick Perbix. Lightning 7, Maple Leafs 2 (6:59).
MAPLE LEAFS GOAL: Calle Jarnkrok scores on a feed from Mitch Marner after a Mikhail Sergachev turnover in the neutral zone. Lightning 7, Maple Leafs 3 (8:06).
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Nick Paul wrist shot saved by Woll
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare backhand shot saved by Woll
Alexander Kerfoot snapshot saved by Vasilevskiy
Maple Leafs power play: Anthony Cirelli penalized for tripping Auston Matthews (4:55 left to play)
Morgan Rielly wrist shot saved by Vasilevskiy
Calle Jarnkrok shot from left circle blocked, and the Lightning clear the puck
John Tavares wrist shot saved by Vasilevskiy
Mikhail Sergachev hits Zach Aston-Reese
Aston-Reese shot deflected up over the net
(Lightning win 7-3, lead series 1-0)
Michael Bunting unable to get off a shot from the right side of the net
Brayden Point shot from the left side off the rush misses wide
Sam Lafferty taken down along the end boards by Ian Cole
Mikey Eyssimont hits Zach Aston-Reese
Lafferty deflection saved by Andrei Vasilevskiy
Mark Giordano shot from left circle hits Vasilevskiy up hight
John Tavares tip-in attempt saved by Vasilevskiy
Auston Matthews shot misses wide
William Nylander wrist shot saved by Vasilevskiy
Brandon Hagel pass on 2-on-1 with Anthony Cirelli deflected wide
Mikhail Sergachev sends the puck in on Samsonov, who covers it
Noel Acciari puts a big hit on Ian Cole into the end boards
Sam Lafferty shot kicked aside by Vasilevskiy
David Kampf wraparound shot stopped by Vasilevskiy
Alex Killorn wrist shot deflected up over the Toronto net
Erik Cernak shot stopped by Samsonov
Maple Leafs power play: Erik Cernak penalized for roughing Michael Bunting (12:41 left in period)
MAPLE LEAFS GOAL: Ryan O’Reilly scores on the power play. Mikhail Sergachev moves away from the net to cover Mitch Marner, who passes down low to John Tavares, who finds O’Reilly open in the slot. Lightning 3, Maple Leafs. 1 (8:06).
Samsonov stops Corey Perry twice from down low
Lightning power play: Luke Schenn penalized for cross-checking Ross Colton (10:33 left in period)
Nikita Kucherov shot off Steven Stamkos just misses
Stamkos has a chance from the left circle
Mikhail Sergachev shot from slot blocked by Mitch Marner
Justin Holl blocks Stamos shot
Marner wrist shot from left corner goes high
Maple Leafs clear the puck
Takeaway by Alexander Kerfoot
Jake McCabe checks Brandon Hagel into the side boards
Darren Raddysh shot blocked by Kerfoot
Leafs kill the penalty
Maple Leafs power play: Ross Colton penalized for slashing Morgan Rielly
Auston Matthews shot from low in the left circle saved by Vasilevskiy
Marner pass for Matthews misses the mark, and the Lightning clear the puck
MAPLE LEAFS GOAL: William Nylander skates from the left circle out to the center point, where he waits patiently before beating Vasilevskiy for a power-play goal. Lightning 3, Maple Leafs 2 (13:12).
Jake McCabe lays out Mikey Eyssimont with a high hit
Lightning power play: David Kampf penalized for slashing (6:01 left in period)
Stamkos slapper from left side stopped by Samsonov
LIGHTNING GOAL! Brayden Point scores from just outside the crease after taking a pass from Nikita Kucherov, who was positioned near the end line. Lightning 4, Maple Leafs 2 (14:29)
Lightning power play: Michael Bunting receives a five-minute major and a match penalty for an illegal check to the head of Erik Cernak (4:20 left in the period)
Marner chips the puck out of the zone
Kucherov shot blocked
Leafs clear the puck out to the neutral zone
Nick Paul shot hits the side of the net
Brandon Hagel shot from left circle misses wide right
LIGHTNING GOAL! Corey Perry shoves in the puck from the right side of the net after a give-and-go with Ross Colton. Lightning 5, Maple Leafs 2 (17:54)
Maple Leafs lose challenge for goaltender interference, giving the Lightning a 5-on-3 advantage
Kucherov shot from in close off the rush saved by Samsonov
Stamkos shot hits Corey Perry in front, and Leafs clear the puck
LIGHTNING GOAL! Brayden Point scores a 5-on-4 power-play goal on a backhand shot with 1.1 seconds left in the period.
(Lightning lead 6-2 after two periods)
Maple Leafs ice the puck
Darren Raddysh shot from right circle gloved at the side of the net by Ilya Samsonov
LIGHTNING GOAL! Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scores on a rebound after Corey Perry circles around the net and fires a shot from the slot. Lightning 1, Maple Leafs 0 (1:18).
Samsonov stops Mikey Eyssimont shot from the top of the left circle
Jake McCabe wrist shot saved by Andrei Vasilevskiy
Lightning ice the puck
Mitch Marner wrist shot from high slot saved by Vasilevskiy
Mark Giordano shot from the left point doesn’t get through traffic
Maple Leafs ice the puck
LIGHTNING GOAL! Anthony Cirelli scores from just below the left circle after Samsonov stops a couple of wrist shots from Brandon Hagel and Lightning 2, Maple Leafs 0 (7:18)
Ryan O’Reilly shot from the slot hits Anthony Cirelli in the neck
Mitch Marner wrist shot saved by Vasilevskiy
Nikita Kucherov blast from the right circle stopped by Samsonov
Lightning power play: Jake McCabe penalized for high-sticking Corey Perry
Nick Paul loses the puck at the right point, and it goes out of the offensive zone
Corey Perry slap shot from the right point saved by Samsonov
Justin Holl clears the puck out of the Toronto zone
Alex Killorn tip of Nikita Kucherov in front saved by Samsonov
Maple Leafs kill the penalty
Lightning ice the puck
Morgan Rielly shot from left point blocked in front
Michael Bunting shot from high slot off the rush blocked by Nick Perbix. Bunting’s rebound attempt is saved by Vasilevskiy
Morgan Rielly shot blocked by Victor Hedman
Auston Matthews drive from center point stopped by Vasilevskiy
Jake McCabe wrist shot saved by Vasilevskiy
Nikita Kucherov clears the puck after a scramble in front of the Lightning net
Michael Bunting shot from left circle blocked by Ian Cole
Anthony Cirelli shot from right side blocked in front
Ryan O’Reilly shot from above the right circle misses wide
Alexander Kerfoot shot from left point saved by Vasilevskiy
Ross Colton shot saved by Samsonov
Brandon Hagel shot from high slot stopped by Samsonov
Lightning power play: TJ Brodie penalized for holding Steven Stamkos with 51 seconds left in the period
Maple Leafs clear the puck out of the zone
Brayden Point pass for Alex Killorn picked off and cleared down the ice
LIGHTNING GOAL! Nikita Kucherov beats Samsonov on the short side with a blast from the right circle with 3.6 seconds remaining in the period. Mark Giordano came out to block the shot but only managed to block Samsonov’s field of vision. Lightning 3, Maple Leafs 0 (19:56).
Lightning outshoot Maple Leafs 15-10 in the period
(Lightning lead 3-0 after one period)
Facing long odds
Everything is the same. And yet, nothing is the same.
This time a year ago, the Lightning were coming off a third-place finish in the Atlantic Division and preparing to play the Maple Leafs in the opening round of the playoffs. Just as they are now.
While there certainly were trendier picks (Colorado, Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida), Tampa Bay was considered among the contenders to win the Stanley Cup, which would have made it the first team in the salary-cap era to do so three seasons in a row.
But this year, the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Lightning are being overlooked in a stacked East field in which they accumulated the sixth-most points among the eight qualifiers. Nine teams league-wide, according to Vegas Insider, had better odds to win the Cup than Tampa Bay at the start of the playoffs.
In fact, most experts and oddsmakers don’t expect the Lightning to get out of the first round.
So, what’s changed?
Well, for one thing, the Lightning for the first time in three seasons aren’t coming off an NHL championship, having fallen to the Avalanche in six games in the 2022 Cup final.
They lost a few more important players during the offseason, most notably defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward Ondrej Palat, after losing their entire third line (Yanni Gourde, Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman) a year earlier.
And unlike last season, when Tampa Bay rebounded from its usual February funk to win seven of its final nine games, the current team recovered briefly, winning three in a row in late March, but then dropped four of its last five games (and eight of its final 12).
Head coach Jon Cooper always has stressed process over outcome, so if his team is following its blueprint for success and giving an honest effort at both ends of the ice for the full 60 minutes, he doesn’t get too caught up in the results. And he surely doesn’t care about odds or predictions.
But too often over the past few weeks we have not seen the same commitment to team defense that served the Lightning so well over the past three postseasons — or even that returned briefly during their late-season winning streak.
Will it resurface now that the NHL has flipped its calendar to the postseason? Will the Lightning play responsibly with the puck, win battles, give up the body to block shots, go to the difficult areas of the ice and make the simple plays needed to win in the playoffs?
In short, will they show the discipline and make the sacrifices necessary to put themselves in position to compete for a third championship in four seasons?
We’ll find out, starting tonight. It’s all in their hands, no matter what others might say.
— FRANK PASTOR, Assistant Sports Editor
Who’s in/who’s out
Will Lightning throw a wrinkle at Leafs?
One interesting thing to come out of this morning’s skate: The last four players on the ice were Tanner Jeannot, who is working his way back from injury, eighth defenseman Hayden Fleury, backup goaltender Brian Elliott and bottom-six enforcer Pat Maroon.
The skate was optional, and those have far less structure and provide fewer clues than full skates, but the last players on the ice usually are the scratches.
So, could Maroon sit in Game 1, and the Lightning opt for an 11-forward, seven-defenseman look?
Read Eduardo A. Encina’s full story here.
Game night scene
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A multi-lingual talent head, Allen is fluent in languages such as Spanish, Russian, Italian, and many more. He has a special curiosity for the events and stories revolving in and around US and caters an uncompromising form of journalistic standard for the audiences.