Toronto Maple Leafs make costly mistakes in loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning
By Neil Becker
Costly turnovers proved to be the Leafs Achilles heel in a 5-3 Thursday night loss at Scotiabank Arena against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Leafs, who two nights earlier surrendered three straight third period goals in a 5-4 win at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets, faced a crucial measuring stick against a red-hot Lightning team.
Tampa, who in early November dropped a 2-1 overtime decision to Toronto, came into action sporting a 7-2-1 record in their last ten games and two points behind the Leafs for second in the Atlantic Division.
Both teams were missing some key players due to injury and suspension. Toronto had to play without veteran forward Jason Spezza who was serving the second game of his six-game suspension along with injured star forward Mitch Marner who will be out for three to four weeks after getting hurt in practice. On the blueline, Toronto was missing Rasmus Sandin who is nursing a knee injury, and defenceman Travis Dermott who has an injured shoulder.
Meanwhile, the Bolts played without power forwards Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and defenceman Erik Cernak.
Leafs forward Ondrej Kase, who had four shots on goal, scored his seventh on the power play 1:44 into regulation for a 1-0 lead.
A little over eight minutes later Tampa made it a brand-new game when veteran forward Corey Perry set up Pierre- Edouard Bellemare in the slot for his second of the season.
Veteran Lightning captain Steve Stamkos, who had a four-point game followed up by scoring his 13th goal, which came on the power play and gave the Bolts what turned out to be a temporary lead.
Late in the first Toronto was pressing on the power play when with only seven seconds left, forward William Nylander scored his 12th goal to make it a brand- new game at 2-2 heading to the second period.
Tampa’s Ondrej Palat, who was picked as the third star, put the Bolts ahead to stay when in the second, he scored his first of two and eighth of the season just past the four-minute mark.
Minutes later Palat, who had a three-point game drew an assist as forward Taylor Raddysh scored his third and a huge insurance marker as Tampa seemed to have the momentum with a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes of regulation.
Toronto seemed on its way to another comeback when Kase scored his eighth and second of the game which with a little over 10 remaining setting the stage for a frantic finish.
Despite getting several quality opportunities, the Leafs came up empty before Palat iced the victory by scoring with 29 seconds left in regulation into an open net.
Defensive lapses and giveaways were the main problems for the Leafs on this night.
These two teams who are sure to be battling all season along with the Florida Panthers for first place in the Atlantic Division will next meet on April 4, 2022.
The Leafs, who have now lost two of their last three games, are back at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night for a 7 p.m. puck drop against the Chicago Blackhawks.
1:44 PPG-Ondrej Kase (7),
John Tavares (16), Morgan Rielly (20) TB- TOR
9:57 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (2) 1- 1
Corey Perry (5)
12:16 PPG- Steve Stamkos (13) 2- 1
Alex Killorn 14)
19:53 PPG- William Nylander (12) 2- 2
Austin Matthews (12)
2nd period TB- TOR
4:02 Ondrej Palat (8) 3- 2
Steve Stamkos (17), Taylor Raddysh (4)
9:11 Taylor Raddysh (3) 4- 2
Ondrej Palat (9), Steve Stamkos (18)
9:36 Ondrej Kase (8) TB- TOR
Jake Muzzin (8), John Tavares (17) 4- 3
19:31 Ondrej Palat (9)
Steve Stamkos (19), Alex Kilorn (15) 5- 3