Leafs edge division-leading Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning have a lot to think about if a playoff series with the Toronto Maple Leafs comes to pass in April or May.
Namely, how to handle some of their own medicine: youth, speed and scoring. Tampa, the top team in the NHL, encountered plenty of all three Monday night at the Air Canada Centre.
Auston Matthews (three assists), William Nylander (two goals, one assist) and Mitch Marner (an assist after a five-point game against Ottawa) were the vanguard of a 4-3 win. Yet Toronto knew its 3-0 lead, achieved on just 17 shots on goal against Andrei Vasilevskiy, was no guarantee of a romp.
In less than six minutes, the Bolts tied it.
The Lightning persevered and produced a late second-period rebound goal by Alex Killorn, with an assist from Nikita Kucherov, point No. 70 for the NHL’s leading scorer.
Two goals in the opening 1:18 of the third, by Kucherov and Yanni Gourde, stunned the home side, making it 3-3.
But James van Riemsdyk found a mouse hole by Vasilevskiy ’s post to restore the lead and preserve the win.
With two games in hand, the Lightning’s lead on Toronto is down to six points with Boston between the two.
A mid-period shift gave 19,112 customers their money’s worth early in the match, first with recent Marlie call-ups Travis Dermott and Kasperi Kapanen almost combining on a point shot and deflection. On the next draw, Matthews beat Steve Stamkos, getting it back to Jake Gardiner and then re-directing to Nylander for a rocket in a small pocket over Vasilevskiy’s near-side shoulder.
Frederik Andersen, looking for his 28th win and 15th at home, had to stop Tyler Johnson on a first-period short-handed breakaway.
Early in the second period, with Marner filling in for Zach Hyman at left wing on the Matthews line, Nylander scored off a rush.
Marner whacked at a puck to stop the Bolts at the Leaf line, Matthews relayed to Nylander and he put his second through Vasilevskiy’s blocker side.
Nylander then dropped a pass to Gardiner, who went low to add his fourth goal of the season to go with 15 assists in his past 15 games.
The Leafs survived a harrowing closing minute with the Tampa net empty.