By Neil Becker
The Toronto Leafs knew they were going to face a desperate Tampa Bay Lightning team.
Tampa Bay, who found themselves trailing two games to one in their best of seven first round playoff series against the Leafs, knew the importance of responding in Game 4 and evening up the series before heading back to Toronto.
Tampa Bay, who are the defending back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions simply dominated on Sunday night as they electrified Amalie Arena with a Game 4 series tying 7-3 win against the Leafs.
Toronto, who two nights earlier defeated Tampa Bay by a 5-2 score, found themselves trailing at the one minute mark when Lightning captain Steven Stamkos blasted home his first playoff goal. In what was a sign of things to come, the Lightning who never relinquished the lead, scored on their very first shot.
Following that opening goal, it was Tampa Bay’s fourth line which got on the scoreboard starting with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare who at the 5:20 mark of the first snapped home his first playoff goal for an early 2-0 lead.
A little over two and a half minutes later Tampa began to fully take over as another fourth-liner in veteran Pat Maroon also tallied his first playoff goal which came on a rebound which got the Amalie Arena extra loud.
In the second period, Tampa Bay continued their onslaught starting at the 3:17 mark when forward Ross Colton scored his second playoff goal on a shot that Leafs goalie Jack Campbell would surely like back. It was a shot glove hand side that the Leafs goalie would probably say he should have stopped.
Campbell’s night would come to an end a little over two minutes later when veteran forward Corey Perry scored Tampa’s fifth goal which came on a five- on-three power play.
Scoring two third period goals was Leafs forward William Nylander. His first goal, which was also his first of the playoffs came just shy of two and a half minutes when he connected on a power play to get his team on the board.
Nylander, who is coming off a career season struck again when at the 12:27 mark he one timed a pass from captain John Tavares to make things a little more interesting as the deficit was cut to 5-2.
Shortly afterwards Toronto would pull goalie Erik Kallgren before Tampa forward Ondrej Palat restored the four goal lead with an open net goal which came with just over five minutes left in regulation.
The Leafs continued to press and were rewarded as defenceman Jake Muzzin a minute and one second later scored his second of the playoffs.
Once again Toronto pulled their goalie and things backfired as Colton, with only 2:16 remaining rounded the offence with his third of the playoffs and second of the game which came into an open net.
The main Game 4 standouts for Tampa Bay were forward Ross Colton who threw five hits and scored two goals along with defenceman Victor Hedman who played over 25 minutes and was a +4. Meanwhile for the Leafs, defenceman Ilya Lyubushkin had an impressive eight hits in nearly 15 minutes of ice time. Uncharacteristically Leafs forward Auston Matthews and defenceman Morgan Rielly were both -4 on the night. Expect a big rebound Game 5 from them on Tuesday night at Scotiabank Arena for a 7:30 p.m. puck drop.
1st Period TOR – TB
1:00 Steve Stamkos (1) 0 – 1
Nikita Kucherov (3), Victor Hedman (4)
5:20 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (1) 0 – 2
7:58 Pat Maroon (1) 0 – 3
Mikhail Sergachev (2), Victor Hedman (5)
2nd Period TOR – TB
3:17 Ross Colton (2) 0 – 4
Brandon Hagel (1), Cale Foote (1)
5:25 PPG-Corey Perry (2) 0 – 5
Nikita Kucherov (4), Brayden Point (1)
3rd Period TOR – TB
2:27 PPG- William Nylander (1) 1 – 5
Auston Matthews (4), Morgan Rielly (3)
12:01 William Nylander (2) 2 – 5
John Tavares (2)
14:40 EN- Ondrej Palat (2) 2 – 6
15:41 Jake Muzzin (2) 3 – 6
T.J. Brodie (2), Colin Blackwell (1)
17:44 EN- Ross Colton (3) 3 – 7
Brandon Hagel (2), Ryan McDonagh (2)