TORONTO — Forgive the Lightning for being a little ornery the past couple of days. Dating to the beginning of the 2020 playoffs, they hadn’t lost often in the postseason and had never been trounced like they were in Monday’s first-round opener against the Maple Leafs.
Take away all the numbers that show how Tampa Bay never loses two straight in the postseason or bounces back from Game 1 losses. This group is a proud one, and on the rare occasion when it falls flat, it gets angry.
“We take it personal,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “That’s the bottom line.”
So the Lightning’s best players, led by Hedman, stepped up, owned the ice on special teams and turned the tables on Toronto, handing the Maple Leafs a 5-3 defeat in Game 2 on Wednesday night at Scotiabank Arena.
Two nights after the Lightning were shut out in the same building, Hedman opened the scoring with less than 3 seconds left in the first period to begin a career-high four-point night, tying him with Bobby Orr for 16th place on the all-time playoff scoring list among defensemen.
One game after going 0-for-5 on the power play, the Lightning went 3-for-7. Their penalty kill was 4-for-4 against a power play that ranked first during the regular season.
“That’s what you have to do,” coach Jon Cooper said. “You have to make it personal, and you have to do whatever you have to do to create an anger and a want inside, whether your want is to win or whether your want is not to lose, either one. And that was the mindset in (the Lightning’s) eyes.”
The 5-0 loss in Game 1 clearly didn’t sit well.
“We’ve got a good leadership group that gets us ready for games, especially bounce-back games,” said center Brayden Point, who scored the Lightning’s third power-play goal of the night. “I think we were just a little more ready this time.”
The Lightning are 15-0 when coming off a loss over the past three postseasons, dating to 2020. They won the three previous series during that stretch when they lost Game 1.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy made 31 saves and was 13-for-13 in the first period before Hedman put the Lightning ahead 1-0.
As time ticked down in the period, Hedman, on a power play, took the puck into the zone, dropped a pass to forward Alex Killorn and drove to the net. Killorn scuffed a shot, and forward Nikita Kucherov got his stick between two Toronto skaters. The puck rolled to Hedman, who patiently waited for Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell to lean across the net before easily burying his forehand shot inside the near post.
“I had no clue,” Hedman said when asked if he knew how much time was left. “It was 16 seconds left when I got the puck. I looked up, and I just tried to go for it. I kept going to the net. I was waiting for ‘Kuch,’ actually, to get open, but he didn’t, so I was able to sneak it in on the short side.”
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Early in the second period, Hedman sprung forward Corey Perry for a breakaway with a stretch pass through the neutral zone from his left circle, allowing Perry to beat Campbell five hole for a 2-0 lead.
“(Hedman) defended, he penalty killed, he did everything in every situation,” Cooper said. “But that’s kind of how it is for us. The big guys step up, but everybody chips behind them.”
Kucherov finished with a three-point night, scoring a pivotal goal on a power play after the Maple Leafs had cut their deficit to 2-1 on a goal by forward Michael Bunting.
Forward Brandon Hagel scored his first career playoff goal to give the Lightning a 4-1 lead early in the third. After Point scored on a power play, the Maple Leafs rallied with two goals in the final 8:07 before Tampa Bay clamped down late.
Hedman said the Lightning were motivated by their anger coming off Game 1.
“(Wednesday), it was for sure,” he said. “We know we’re coming in here, we haven’t played them in the playoffs before, and when you lose the first game 5-0, it’s not going to leave a good taste. When you lose two in a row in the playoffs, it’s never good since it’s first to four (wins in a series). So we go out there, and after a loss, we want to bounce right back, and this was another example of us doing that.
“We’ve got a lot of trust in our team. We weren’t sure we were going to bounce back. You can’t predict what the results are going to be. But when you put effort in and you have the work ethic that we had (Wednesday), we like our chances and we got rewarded.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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