TAMPA — Their season might be teetering, but their perspective isn’t. The Lightning won’t try to salvage their series against Toronto with wholesale changes Thursday night.
Subtract a surreal 380-second stretch in the third period of Monday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs, and the Lightning generally like what they’ve been doing. That includes the penalty kill.
Before its statistics were soiled by world-class redirects on Toronto’s last two power plays Monday, Tampa Bay’s penalty kill had been sturdy, if not sparkling. The Maple Leafs had gone scoreless in their six previous power-play chances dating to the third period of Game 2.
“Especially the last game, we did everything we wanted,” coach Jon Cooper said following Wednesday’s practice at Amalie Arena. “And it’s not like we’re giving them a whole bunch of chances in the zone. It’s just, the one’s they’re shooting are going in, and those are tough. But for the most part, we’ve liked a lot of what we’ve done.”
On Monday, Cooper watched his penalty kill essentially stonewall Toronto at the blue line on its first two power-play opportunities, creating so much disruption that the Maple Leafs struggled to set up. But on the Leafs’ third chance, Auston Matthews skated around the back of the net, positioned himself in front and tipped in William Nylander’s waist-high wrist shot from atop the right circle.
“On that one, I actually thought I ready it pretty well,” Lightning defenseman Ian Cole said.
“I saw (Matthews) over my shoulder, I came back, I was right there. If (the shot) was along the ice, I could probably break it up. It was a waist-high wrist shot that (Matthews) tipped in top corner. It’s like, ‘Wow, all right.’ Listen, good play.”
The Leafs’ overtime winner — also on a power play — was eerily similar: a redirect by Alexander Kerfoot of a Mark Giordano wrist shot from the right side. “World-class tip,” Cole said.
“So I think as a whole, we did a good job. I don’t know what we would change. I don’t think you want to be too reactive in the sense of, ‘Hey, this went in a certain way. OK, everyone just go stand in front of the net.’ Well then, it’s going to be Auston Matthews teeing up one-timers, right? So you adjust one way, it opens up something else. They have one extra guy.”
Scotiabank sequel for Paul?
Nearly a year since skating into Lightning playoff lore by scoring his first two postseason goals against Toronto in Game 7, Nick Paul still is trying to recapture that mojo against the Maple Leafs.
Raised roughly 15 miles from Scotiabank Arena in the neighboring town of Mississauga, Paul hasn’t produced a point yet in this series as the third-line center. On the encouraging side, he won 10 of 14 face-offs in Game 4.
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“I haven’t gotten any points so far, but I’m just trying to play my role,” Paul said Wednesday. “Defensively, get momentum, finish checks, win draws, just be someone they can rely on. I think I have a lot more to give, and if I can start putting some in the back of the net, it’s going to help a lot as well.”
Acquired in a trade with the Senators less than two months prior to the 2021-22 postseason, Paul stepped up when Brayden Point suffered a leg injury after sliding into the boards late in the first period of Game 7. Only 73 seconds after Point painfully skated off the ice, Paul scored on a putback to put the Lightning up 1-0.
His off-balance wrist shot late in the second period was the clincher in a 2-1 win.
“Last year’s last year,” Paul said. “You can’t just rely on what happened last year. It’s a new group in here, but it’s a group that we all trust and we all believe that we can come back and we can get it done. So we’re just focused on our next game and winning that and, yeah, bringing it home here.”
“Actually, I liked everything about (Wednesday). They had pop, they had jump in their step. I think the day off did us well. Like I said, we’re not going to win a series in our next game, we’ve just got to win one game. And we’ve done that ample times this year.” — Cooper on the team’s brief practice Wednesday at Amalie Arena
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls
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