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The Lightning got scoring from two unexpected sources Thursday night, and it might have saved their season.
Mikey Eyssimont and Nick Paul, trade-deadline acquisitions the past two seasons, led the way to a 4-2 victory over the Maple Leafs in Game 5 of their opening-round playoff series at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Eyssimont, who replaced Tanner Jeannot in the lineup, scored the go-ahead goal in the second period. Paul, who hadn’t scored to this point in the series, added what turned out to be the winner in the third.
As a result, the Lightning avoided elimination and closed their deficit to 3-2 in the best-of-seven series heading into Game 6 Saturday at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
Toronto’s Morgan Rielly and Tampa Bay’s Anthony Cirelli traded goals 25 seconds apart in the first period, which ended in a 1-1 tie.
Rielly gave the Maple Leafs a brief 1-0 lead when he scored from the high slot off a backhand pass from John Tavares from below the goal line at 5:47. But Cirelli tied it just 25 seconds later, putting back a rebound of a Brandon Hagel shot from the top of the crease.
Eyssimont put the Lightning ahead for the first time in the game when he drove to the net and beat Ilya Samsonov though the legs on the short side with a shot from below the left circle at 4:24 of the second.
Paul scored what seemed to be an insurance goal on a second attempt from between the hashmarks with just over eight minutes left in the game.
It turned out to be the winner when Auston Matthews put back a rebound of a Mitch Marner shot with 3:33 remaining, bringing the Leafs back to within 3-2.
Alex Killorn’s empty-net goal with 4.2 seconds remaining ended any further chance of a Toronto comeback.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 28 of the 30 shots he faced, including a huge stop on Mitch Marner on a third-period breakaway. Samsonov made 34 saves on 37 attempts.
The Lightning had one brief scare late in the first period.
In a scene reminiscent of Game 3, when Brayden Point went hard into the end boards after colliding with Rielly, Nikita Kucherov did the same after being tripped by Justin Holl with just over two minutes to play in the period. But Kucherov returned to the ice during the ensuing power play and played the rest of the game.
Here’s how it happened:
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Maple Leafs will start the period on the power play after Pat Maroon penalized for roughing Mark Giordano at end of the second
Brandon Hagel shorthanded backhand shot saved by Ilya Samsonov
Scramble in front of the Lightning net, but Andrei Vasilevskiy keeps the puck out
Alex Killorn has a shorthanded scoring chance off the rush. Anthony Cirelli and Darren Raddysh have follow-up opportunities
Cirelli skates the puck out of the zone and gets off another shorthanded shot
Lightning kill the penalty
Zach Aston-Reese backhander from right circle hits Victor Hedman up high
Innocent-looking dump-in nearly turns into a Lightning scoring opportunity when Samsonov loses control of the puck and has to dive forward to cover it up
Mark Giordano shot from left point caught by Vasilevskiy
Auston Matthews can’t get off wrap-around attempt
Vasilevskiy makes a stick save on Mitch Marner on a wide-open breakaway opportunity
Hedman knocks down Ryan O’Reilly
Samsonov stops Killorn from low in left circle
Stamkos shot from high slot off the rush saved by Samsonov
John Tavares fans on shot from low slot
LIGHTNING GOAL! Nick Paul scores on his second attempt from between the hashmarks. Lightning 3, Maple Leafs 1. 11:53
Lightning ice the puck
Leafs pull Samsonov with more than four minutes remaining
Marner hits the post from the left circle
Brandon Hagel shot into an empty net hits the post at the other end
MAPLE LEAFS GOAL: Auston Matthews scores on a rebound of a Mitch Marner shot from the left point with 3:33 remaining. Lightning 3, Maple Leafs 2 (16:26)
Samsonov is back in the Maple Leafs net
Lightning ice the puck
Marner shot saved by Vasilevskiy
Leafs ice the puck. Samsonov will go back in
Samsonov again leaves the net with just under two minutes to play
Lightning clear the puck
Puck hops over Marner’s stick at right point and out of the zone
Nylander shot tipped wide from right circle
Sergachev misses empty net, so it will be icing on Lightning with 15.2 seconds left
Cirelli wins defensive-zone faceoff and Lightning clear the zone
LIGHTNING GOAL! Alex Killorn scores into an empty net. Lightning 4, Maple Leafs 2 (4.2 seconds remaining)
Lightning win game 4-2, trail in series 3-2)
Lightning start the period with 13 seconds remaining on the power play
Leafs kill the remaining time
Alex Killorn centering pass for Anthony Cirelli just misses
Victor Hedman shot from right circle saved by Ilya Samsonov
John Tavares shot from slot goes wide
Ryan O’Reilly backhander from left point hits side of the net
Hedman blocks a Toronto shot
Luke Schenn shot caught and held by Andrei Vasilevskiy
Morgan Rielly shot from high slot misses the net
Anthony Cirelli shot from left circle off the rush goes wide
LIGHTNING GOAL! Mikey Eyssimont drives to the net and scores from below the left circle. Lightning 2, Maple Leafs 1.
Maple Leafs ice the puck
Darren Raddysh lays out to break up centering pass from Noel Acciari
Cirelli shot from right circle saved by Samsonov. Killorn’s rebound attempt misses wide
Hedman fans on shot from the center point
Mark Giordano shot blocked
Toronto with sustained pressure in the offensive zone before Marner loses his footing and gives up the puck
Nick Paul shot from the left circle off the rush saved by Samsonov
Alex Kerfoot penalized for delay of game after putting the puck over the glass in the defensive zone, and the Lightning their second power play (8:59 left in period)
Leafs clear the puck
Lightning ice the puck, bringing the faceoff back into their zone
Mikhail Sergachev loses the puck to David Kampf in the neutral zone
Calle Jarnkrok clears the puck
Ryan O’Reilly clears the puck
Hedman loses it to Marner in defensive zone, who feeds Kampf for a shot in the right circle
Maple Leafs kill the penalty
Matthew Knies leaves the ice after blocking a shot
John Tavares drives the right side of the net, and his shot is deflected up out of play
Nick Perbix wrist shot from right point saved by Samsonov
Cirelli shot from left point knocked down by Samsonov
Brayden Point hits the post with a shot from the left circle off the rush
Point has another chance from in close
Kucherov wrist shot deflected high over the net
Kucherov shot from low in right circle hits Samsonov up high
Maple Leafs ice the puck
Knies goes down the tunnel into the locker room
Nylander shot from right point saved by Vasilevskiy
Nylander has a great chance from the left post, but Vasilevskiy fights it off
Pat Maroon hits Giordano hard into the boards at the buzzer, and Maroon and Auston Matthews goes after Maroon. Maroon receives a two-minute minor for roughing
(Lightning leads 2-1 after two periods)
Alex Killorn shot from above right circle saved by Ilya Samsonov. Rebound bounces over Killorn’s stick in the slot
Jake McCabe bouncing shot from left side steered aside by Andrei Vasilevskiy
Mikhail Sergachev shot from center point blocked
Zach Bogosian shot from right point knocked down in front
Pat Maroon sharp-angle shot misses high and wide
Alex Killorn has a chance in front
McCabe separates Brandon Hagel from the puck with a hard hit in the right circle
Nikita Kucherov shot from left point stopped by Samsonov
Sam Lafferty shot from right point off the rush goes over Vasilevskiy’s shoulder
Justin Holl slap shot from right side boards saved by Vasilevskiy
Nick Paul shot from right point goes off a skate wide of the net
MAPLE LEAFS GOAL: Morgan Rielly scores from the high slot off a backhand pass from John Tavares from below the goal line. Maple Leafs 1, Lightning 0 (5:47)
LIGHTNING GOAL! Anthony Cirelli puts back a rebound of a Brandon Hagel shot from the top of the crease 25 seconds after Rielly’s goal. Lightning 1, Maple Leafs 0 (6:12)
TJ Brodie shot blocked
Holl shot from long distance kicked aside by Vasilevskiy
Matthews snap shot from the center point misses high
McCabe delivers a hard hit to Brayden Point near the side boards
Ross Colton sharp-angle shot saved by Samsonov
Darren Raddysh shot from right point deflected wide
Raddysh centering point from right circle goes off a skate
Auston Matthews diving shot from high slot saved by Vasilevskiy
Ross Colton penalized for interference, and the Maple Leafs get their first power play (14:38)
Mitch Marner pass in front tipped but saved by Vasilevskiy
Victor Hedman’s clearing attempt goes off shaft of a stick and in on Vasilevskiy
Lightning clear the puck
Lightning clear the puck, but Hagel has it stolen in the neutral zone
Vasilevskiy twice stops Calle Jarnkrok from the low slot
Matthews one-timer from right circle high and wide
Matthews misses again from right circle
Lightning kill the penalty
Vasilevskiy robs William Nylander from the top of the crease
Zach Bogosian shot from right side boards deflected wide
Lightning go on the power play, as Justin Holl is penalized for tripping Nikita Kucherov behind the Toronto net. Kucherov goes hard into the end boards. (2:13)
Brayden Point rebound attempt from low slot misses wide
Mikhail Sergachev shot blocked by Mitch Marner
Steven Stamkos blast saved by Samsonov
Maple Leafs clear the puck
Stamkos shot from left point saved by Samsonov
Leafs clear the puck
Stamkos shot from above left circle saved by Samsonov
Kucherov drive from right circle misses
Maple Leafs kill the penalty. Lightning had six shots on the power play
Kucherov shot from right circle blocked
Vasilevskiy stops eight of the nine shots he sees in the period
(Lightning and Maple Leafs tied 1-1 after one period)
How did we get here so quickly?
It can’t be over this quickly, can it? It feels like we’re just getting started.
In fact, we are. The NHL postseason is not even two weeks old, and already the Lightning face potential elimination. Of course, they’ve survived elimination games before over the past couple of postseasons, but they have not failed to advance beyond the opening round since being swept by the Blue Jackets in 2019.
Here’s the cruel truth: The Lightning have to win tonight in Toronto to earn the chance to play in another potential elimination game Saturday in Tampa. Pull out a victory at home, and they can force a winner-take-all Game 7 Monday in Toronto. They’d have to win that one, too, to move on to the second round.
But they have to take the first step tonight.
How did they find themselves in this position? That’s the puzzling part.
The Lightning outplayed the Maple Leafs for most of Game 3 and overwhelmed them in the first two periods of Game 4 yet surrendered third-period leads in both games before losing in overtime.
Despite the results, the Lightning mostly seem to like the way they’ve been playing. They’ve competed hard, been physical, kept their feet moving, played with speed, scored goals, made it difficult for the Leafs to enter the offensive zone and largely limited their chances.
They outshot the Maple Leafs 6-1 in overtime of Game 3, but Toronto’s one shot happened to find the back of the net. Players and coaches said after Game 4 it felt like the Lightning sat back and let the Maple Leafs take the game to them in the third period.
Red Wings coach and former Lightning assistant Derek Lalonde suggested in his role as a television analyst that the Maple Leafs might have found a chink in goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy’s armor: he has trouble tracking long-distance shots and redirections. Three of Toronto’s three goals in Game 4 were scored on tipped pucks.
But those shots are problematic for any goaltender. And they might be less the fault of Vasilevskiy than his teammates in front of him allowing shots to get through, and failing to clear space or tie up sticks in front of the net. Surely, being without top-four defenseman Erik Cernak (out since taking a hit to the head from Michael Bunting in Game 1) the past three games hasn’t helped, either.
Explanations, or excuses?
Does it really matter at this point?
At the end of the day, you have to outscore your opponent, and the Lightning haven’t done so since Game 1.
That was just nine days ago.
Who’s in/who’s out
Is pressure really on Lightning in Game 5?
Who has the pressure heading into Game 5 tonight in Toronto:The team that needs to win three games to advance or the team that has lost 10 elimination games in a row?
There seems to be cautious optimism in Toronto that this is the year the Maple Leafs will emerge from the first round. And they’re in a position to be confident heading into tonight’s contest leading the series 3-1.
But the Lightning know what it takes to win an elimination game on the road, winning Game 7 in the same building a year ago after battling back from 2-1 and 3-2 series deficits.
Read Eduardo A. Encina’s full story here.
Game night scene
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