TORONTO — At this point in the Lightning’s first-round playoff series with the Maple Leafs, they have to expect games to be tightly called and realize that special teams will play a role in the outcomes.
In a 4-3 Game 5 Lightning loss Tuesday night, momentum turned on a pair of 4-on-4 Maple Leafs goals scored just over a minute apart in the third period.
The teams played 3:50 of 4-on-4 in the game, and it played a pivotal role.
The Lightning held the league’s most dangerous power-play unit to a 1-for-6 night but allowed 4-on-4 goals to Morgan Rielly 3:01 into the third period and then William Nylander 4:14 in.
“When you give up two, we’ve got to be better, that’s the bottom line,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “Miscommunication on the first one, and a good shot there on the second one. We’ll learn from this, go back and regroup and get ready for Game 6.”
With the Maple Leafs down 2-1, Toronto forward John Tavares used the open ice to weave below the left circle, made a push to the front of the net and drew three Lightning skaters his way, leaving Rielly wide open along the right hash for a goal.
Toronto forward Ilya Mikheyev then found Nylander streaking into the Lightning zone in open ice, and the forward rifled a slap shot from the left circle past diving Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian off the far post and in to put Toronto up 3-2.
“I’m not sure that for teams, that’s the focal point of the season when they’re practicing to play 4-on-4,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Remarkably, we’ve played a lot in this series, but I don’t think we’re leading the 4-on-4 race in the playoffs. I think other series are playing more than us.
“It’s been odd that there’s been so much, whether it’s 5-on-4 or 5-on-3, 4-on-4. I’ve never seen that in the playoffs. And please do not think this is an excuse. It’s not by any means. It’s just different than what we’ve been used to.”
Vasilevskiy’s Vezina finalist run ends
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who made 21 saves on 25 shots in the game, was not among the three finalists named Tuesday for the Vezina Trophy, which goes to the league’s top goaltender as selected by the general managers.
It ended Vasilevskiy’s string of four straight seasons as a finalist. He won the award in 2018-19, was second to Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury last season and placed third two other times.
The Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin, the Flames’ Jacob Markstrom and the Predators’ Juuse Saros are the finalists. The award is based on regular-season performance.
Vasilevskiy led the league in wins for the fifth consecutive season, this time along with Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky at 39. Vasilevskiy had his most wins since his Vezina-winning season. Statistically, this wasn’t Vasilevskiy’s best season. He had a .916 save percentage, which was 12th in the league, and a 2.49 goals-against average, which was ninth.
Follow all the action on and off the ice
Subscribe to our free Lightning Strikes newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
On Monday, Hedman was named one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy, which goes to the league’s top defensemen as selected by the members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. It is the sixth straight season Hedman has been a finalist.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieintheYard.
• • •
The Tampa Bay Times has commemorated the Lightning’s second consecutive Stanley Cup title with a new hardcover coffee table book, Striking Twice. Order now.
Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.