With their playoff hopes on the line, the Lightning produced a gutsy, gritty, physical, complete performance against the Maple Leafs. The result was a regulation win over the Leafs, a triumph that sets up another do-or-die contest on Friday against Montreal.
One of the big keys in this game was the fact that the Lightning scored first and never let the Maple Leafs play with the lead. The Leafs' attack was at its most dangerous when the game was scoreless. They also had a couple of looks immediately after they tied the game at one in the second period. But after Nikita Kucherov's goal, which re-established a Lightning lead at 11:50 of the second, the Bolts enjoyed an edge in play for the rest of the game. They not only netted two more goals in the third, they held the Leafs to just five third period shots.
Another key was the desperation with which the Lightning played. Players dove in front of Toronto shot attempts to provide important blocks (they blocked 19 Toronto shots in the game). The Bolts finished their checks all over the ice and competed hard for loose pucks. They did a fantastic job on three successful penalty kills, all of which took place when the game was still scoreless. That desperation and determination helped offset another tough night in the faceoff circle (the Leafs won 64% of draws) - consequently, the Leafs were never able to translate their prowess on draws into extended puck possession time.
The Lightning received a terrific game from their line of Greg McKegg, Gabriel Dumont and Michael Bournival, who was just recalled from Syracuse. Earlier this year, Dumont and Bournival were on a line with Cedric Paquette and the unit was constantly playing in the offensive zone. Likewise in this game, the line spent most of the night in the Toronto end. One of those extended offensive zone shifts culminated with a Bournival goal that gave the Bolts a 3-1 lead two minutes into the third period.
The Lightning also got contributions from Brayden Point (two goals), Kucherov (gwg), Ondrej Palat (two assists) and Victor Hedman (three assists). But ultimately, this was a team win. The Lightning played as a cohesive five-man unit, no matter who was on the ice.
The Lightning's path to the playoffs is still a long and narrow one, especially now that Ottawa has clinched a spot. There are a variety of things that still have to occur over the weekend. But none of that will matter if the Lightning don't pick up a regulation or overtime win in Montreal on Friday in what will be the only game on the NHL schedule.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Kucherov's winning goal.
Video: TBL@TOR: Kucherov carves up defense for pretty goal
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
- Brayden Point - Lightning. Two goals.
- Line of Bournival, Dumont and McKegg - Lightning.
- Victor Hedman - Lightning. Three assists.