The Toronto Maple Leafs suffer heartbreaking Game 7 loss
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By Neil Becker
The Toronto Maple Leafs quest for a long playoff run has come to an end.
Coming off a record breaking season which saw them set franchise records with 54 wins and 115 points, this was the spring where the Leafs were looking to make a Stanley Cup run.
Heading into playoffs, this was a determined team who despite not winning a playoff rebound since 2004, still had confidence and high expectations.
As expected it was a close Eastern Conference first round best of seven series between two evenly matched teams in the Leafs and back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning.
Toronto had a chance to close out their series on Thursday in Game 6 at Amalie Arena but ended up losing a 4-3 overtime thriller which brought the series back to Scotiabank Arena for a deciding Game 7.
Looking to avoid another disappointing Game 7 loss on home ice, the Leafs on Saturday night couldn’t get the job done as their playoff run came to an end following a heartbreaking 2-1 loss.
Leafs fans might remember all to well last year when they couldn’t close out a 3-1 best of seven first round series lead against the Montreal Canadiens and ended up losing at Scotiabank Arena in seven.
On this Saturday night both goalies played well. Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was solid in a 30 save performance while Leafs goalie Jack Campbell also was sharp as he stood tall in stopping 23 shots.
In showing how much playoffs mean to players, a perfect example came late in the first period when Lightning forward Brayden Point went awkwardly into the boards and was shaken up. This event which happened with less than three minutes left, saw him getting helped off the ice. It looked for certain that he wouldn’t be back, but then there he was skating out in tremendous pain with teammates to begin the second. He took one shift and was in tremendous pain. Point, who two days earlier scored he Game 6 winner, refused to go to the dressing room for treatment. Instead he remained for the second and third periods on the bench giving his teammates moral support.
The Game 7 scoring hero for Tampa turned out not to be their stars such as Steve Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov or Victor Hedman. Instead it was fourth liner Nick Paul who had the game of his life.
Paul, who was traded on March 20, 2022 from the Ottawa Senators to the Lightning scored what were the first two playoff goals of his career.
His first, which came with under two minutes remaining in the first occurred when he backhanded a rebound from a Ross Colton shot past Campbell for that all important 1-0 Lightning lead.
Scotiabank Arena fans had reason to get loud when at the 13:25 mark defenceman Morgan Rielly released an accurate shot from the right circle which went in on Vasilevskiy’s glove hand side to make it a brand new game.
This Leafs goal came shortly after Leafs captain John Tavares thought he tied things up only to have the goal waived off due to a Leafs penalty.
A little over three minutes later Tampa scored what turned out to be the winning goal on an individual highlight-reel play by Paul. On a night he will always remember, this skilled forward kicked the puck with his skate to his stick before skating in and scoring the series winning goal blocker side on Campbell.
Looking at from an optimist point of view, the Leafs took the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions to a deciding game. However the bottom line is that they had two chances and just couldn’t close things out.
1st Period TB – TOR
8:24 Nick Paul (1) 1 – 0
Ross Colton (2), Cal Foote (2)
2nd Period TB – TOR
3:25 Morgan Rielly (3) 1 – 1
Auston Matthews (5), Mitch Marner (6)
6:32 Nick Paul (2) 2 – 1
3rd Period (no scoring)