Tampa Bay Lightning force a seventh and deciding game
By Neil Becker
The Toronto Maple Leafs were approximately 10:40 away from achieving something they haven’t done in 18 years.
On Thursday night at Amalie Arena, the Leafs were defeating the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in the third period as they were only 20 minutes away from closing out their best of seven first round series in six.
Suddenly, at the 9:20 mark, Amalie Arena was rocking as Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov on the power play scored his second playoff goal of the spring to eventually force a Game 6 overtime.
Toronto had some great overtime opportunities to end the series, but it was the Lightning who avoided elimination as Brayden Point scored his second playoff goal at the 18:04 mark to force a series deciding Game 7 back at Scotiabank Arena.
It was a painful night for Leafs fans as they were so close to advancing for the first time since 2004 into the second round.
Meanwhile in what is definitely an amazing streak of consistency the Lightning have now improved their record to 17-0 after dropping a playoff game. They haven’t lost two or more consecutive playoff games since 2019 when they were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Tampa Bay got that critical opening goal which came off a rare mistake by Leafs forward Alex Kerfoot. Skating up ice in what was a 4 on 4 situation, he tried a neutral zone back pass to defenceman T.J. Brodie which didn’t connect. The Lightning quickly pounced on the mistake as forward Ondrej Palat picked up the lose puck before skating in on the Leafs goal and scoring at 17:38 of the first for a 1-0 Lightning lead.
That lead got even bigger when at the 10:46 mark of the second period, Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli executed a highlight reel spinarama play to score a shorthanded goal to give them a two- goal lead.
Less than a minute later Toronto cut the deficit to one when off an offensive zone face-off defeneman Mark Giordano unleashed a shot which was deflected by Auston Matthews for his fourth playoff goal.
Late in the second period, Leafs captain John Tavares who had been criticized for his lack of offensive production picked the right time to get hot as he scored two goals in the final minute which put Toronto ahead 3-2 heading to the third.
Both teams had some golden opportunities in the third, but again it was Tampa who were rewarded as Kucherov scored that huge power-play goal to force overtime.
Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was money in the overtime and eventually at 18:04 of overtime, another Tampa Bay hero emerged as Point scored that winner to force a series deciding Game 7 back in Toronto.
These two teams will play Game 7 on Saturday night with a 7 p.m. opening face-off at Scotiabank Arena.
1st Period TOR- TB
17:38 Ondrej Palat (3) 0 – 2
2nd Period TOR – TB
10:46 SHG- Anthony Cirelli (1) 0 – 2
11:40 Auston Matthews (4) 1 – 2
Mark Giordano (2), William Nylander (3)
19:26 John Tavares (2) 2 – 2
Jason Spezza (1), Ondrej Kase (3)
19:52 John Tavares (3) 3 – 2
William Nylander (4), Alex Kerfoot (1)
3rd Period TOR – TB
9:20 PPG- Nikita Kucherov (2) 3 – 3
Brayden Point (2), Steve Stamkos (2)
OT Period TOR – TB
18:04 Brayden Point (2) 3 – 4
Alex Killorn (4), Brandon Hagel (3)