The Lightning were less than a minute away from a hard-earned, if flawed, victory over the Maple Leafs on Thursday in Toronto when things quickly went south.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy had bailed them out more than a handful of times in the game, foiling breakaways and turning away odd-man rushes. And then one fundamental mistake from one of their most trustworthy players sent the Lightning on their way to a 2-1 overtime loss at Scotiabank Arena.
“The frustrating part is I didn’t feel like the Leafs beat us,” coach Jon Cooper said. “I feel like we just beat ourselves, and that was painfully evident after the first period. … For us, we felt like we really gave a point away.”
Clinging to a 1-0 lead after Pat Maroon scored 13:16 into the first period, the Lightning (5-3-2) played a defensive game in the third, holding off each Toronto charge by flicking the puck out of their zone. But as regulation entered its final minute, defenseman Victor Hedman couldn’t get enough air under a clearing attempt from behind his end line.
Maple Leafs captain John Tavares grabbed the puck above the right circle, dropped it to the ice and passed to Auston Matthews along the side boards. As Matthews passed to Mitch Marner in the corner, Tavares drove to the net and redirected Marner’s pass past Vasilevskiy stick side with 41.1 seconds left.
Asked what happened on the play, Hedman said, “I don’t know.”
Then Hedman was sent to the penalty box for slashing 58 seconds into overtime. William Nylander scored on a one-timer from the left circle with 2:17 remaining in the extra period and 14 seconds left on the 4-on-3 power play.
With their three-game winning streak snapped, the Lightning were left to ponder a game in which they dominated the first period but became sloppy with the puck in the second.
“We changed the way we played in the second, and then we kind of chased the game after that even though we were up in the game,” Hedman said. “(Vasilevskiy) made some big saves. We want to put together a full 60 (minutes), but we aren’t doing that right now.
“We got careless with the puck. We turned pucks over, fed their transition game. We played good in the D-zone, but too many on us against. It’s not the way we want to play. The first period was phenomenal. We’ve just got to do that for 60.”
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Maroon put the Lightning up on a feed from Corey Perry, a reward for a star-crossed third line that hadn’t been able to capitalize on numerous scoring chances.
After that, the Lightning got nothing past Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell, who finished with 24 saves.
Vasilevskiy stopped 32 shots, including 13 in a second period that saw the Leafs expose the Lightning’s sloppy play with odd-man rushes and breakaways. He made a sliding right-pad stop on Wayne Simmonds on a breakaway with 32 seconds left in the second. Earlier in the period, he stuffed Simmonds in front of the net after a pass from Jason Spezza and stopped Matthews’ backhanded try on a breakaway.
The narrative would have been much different had the Lightning held on. But after a game they were so close to winning, Cooper was left looking for answers.
“We do have a core group here that knows how to push games over the finish line, and we’re just not quite doing that yet,” he said.
“We’re 10 games in (to the season) now, and we know better. We’ll wake up (today) and see some of the good things we did, but we know better, and we need to be better.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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