Lightning Wins OT Thriller, Force Game 7 vs Maple Leafs

TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning saved their season and kept their bid for a three-peat alive.

The two-time Stanley Cup champions beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in overtime on Thursday night, repelling the elimination and forcing a winner take-all in the first round playoff series between Atlantic Division rivals 7.

Brayden Point scored the winning goal on a rebound at 1:56 in the first overtime, sparking a roaring celebration in the stands at the packed Amalie Arena and dealing another crushing postseason blow to Toronto.

Ondrej Palat, Anthony Cirelli and Nikita Kucherov also scored for the Lightning, who squandered a two-goal lead in their second straight game and were 3-2 down at the start of the third period.

But unlike Tuesday night, when Toronto came from behind to win Game 5 at home, the Maple Leafs couldn’t stop the reigning champions from claiming their first win in the playoff series in 18 years.

Game 7 is Saturday in Toronto.

“All we did was buy another chance to keep our season going,” Point said.

“It all boils down to a game. … It’s fun to play in,” Cirelli added.

Blitz center Brayden Point celebrates after the winning goal.
Blitz center Brayden Point celebrates after the winning goal.

The Lightning are attempting to become the first team to win three straight Stanley Cup titles since the New York Islanders won four straight from 1980-83.

The Maple Leafs, who have been eliminated in the first round for the past five seasons, are in tight games 0-8 in the hunt for their first win in the postseason series since 2004.

“We had our looks in OT. Unfortunately, we weren’t the ones who took our chances,” said John Tavares from Toronto.

“We’ve worked hard all year to earn home ice and we have a great opportunity to go home in front of our fans and try to finish this thing,” Tavares added. “Look forward to the opportunity. That’s what the game is about.”

Andrei Vasilevskiy had 30 saves – nine in overtime – to improve to 18-0 in games after a playoff loss in the last three postseasons.

“This time of year is all about winning and this group proved that we don’t care how it’s done,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. “We just want to get it done”

Jack Campbell stopped 32 of 36 shots for the Maple Leafs, whose fortunes changed dramatically when they were called for two big penalties within 16 seconds of the third period.

The Lightning capitalized on the 5v3 powerplay opportunity, with Kucherov’s goal midway through the third period making it 3-3.

Special teams also played a role in Tampa Bay’s first two goals — Palat scored a 4-on-4 in the opening period, and Cirelli’s shorthanded goal put the Maple Leafs two goals behind the Auston Matthews and John Tavares wiped out the last half of the second.

Matthews equalized the deficit with his fourth goal in a row. Tavares scored twice in the last 34 seconds of the second period to give the Maple Leafs a 3-2 lead.

“I thought we played a good third third until they were 5-on-3,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said.

“We have protected our network well. We defended well. We were in a good position. I loved how we played,” added Keefe. “The 5v3 turns things around and then it took us a little bit to really get our game going from there.”

The Maple Leafs rallied to win Game 5 at home, moving from an early two-goal deficit and scoring three in the third period to win 4-3 and take a 3-2 lead in series.

The Lightning, on the other hand, had to be eliminated for the second year in a row in the last three postseasons. The Islanders extended it into Game 7 in last year’s Conference Semifinals, with Tampa Bay winning 1-0 before beating the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Finals.

The defending champions got the opening two goals again on Thursday night, with Palat taking advantage of a loss of possession in the neutral zone to hit Campbell with a breakaway and Cirelli shaking defender Mark Giordano with a spin move and putting Lightning ahead with a 2-0 goal outnumbered at 10:46 of the second period.

Matthews scored less than a minute later, directing Giordano’s shot through heavy traffic and past Vasilevskiy to reduce Toronto’s deficit to 2-1. It looked like a goal could stand until the end of the third, until the Maple Leafs launched another attack in the final minute.

Tavares’ hard shot from the left circle deflected off Vasilevskiy’s block and over the Lightning keeper to level it to 2. His second goal put the Maple Leafs ahead just eight seconds before the second break.

With Toronto’s David Kampf and Alexander Kerfoot both in the box for high-sticking, Kucherov – helped by Point and Stamkos – scored his second goal of the series.

The Maple Leafs beat the Lightning 8-2 in the first 11 minutes of overtime.

“We had a lot of opportunities to end the game and end the series,” Keefe said. “It hasn’t gone to our liking but (there is) a lot of confidence in our group and we’re looking forward to playing Game 7 on home ice in front of our fans.” Lightning Wins OT Thriller, Force Game 7 vs Maple Leafs


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