The Lightning were playing the second game of a back-to-back after winning an emotional contest last night in Montreal. That dramatic victory clinched a playoff berth for the Bolts. There was the possibility that in the second half of the back-to-back, which took place against the draft lottery-bound Maple Leafs, that the Lightning would have trouble matching their intensity level from the night before.
As it turned out, the Lightning weren’t able to replicate Monday’s performance. It’s true that they fired 41 shots on James Reimer - and also hit three posts. But they were not nearly as sharp as they were in Montreal. They surrendered a handful of odd-man rushes, weren’t able to consistently establish a puck possession game, and did not execute plays as crisply as they usually do. Also, they fell behind early and were forced to play catch-up for the rest of the game.
The Maple Leafs took a 2-0 first period lead, scoring those goals in a 3:10 span. With six seconds left on a power play, Nazem Kadri deflected a shot from Joakim Lindstrom past Andrei Vasilevskiy. Then, David Booth fired an innocent-looking shot from the side boards past Vasilevskiy’s stick. In his NHL career so far, Vasilevskiy has not yielded many goals that he’d like to have back, but that was one of them. The Lightning picked up their game in the closing minutes of the period and tallied their lone goal during a late first period power play. Nikita Kucherov wired a cross-ice pass to Ondrej Palat, won fired a quick shot on Reimer. Reimer sprawled to make the save, but Ryan Callahan put home the rebound. It was 2-1 Toronto after one period.
Though the second period was scoreless, both clubs had Grade-A chances. The Bolts outshot the Leafs, 14-10, and several of Reimer’s saves were from in-close. But despite the shot advantage in the period, the Lightning allowed a number of odd-man rushes. Some resulted in shots on Vasilevskiy, some didn’t. But the leaky coverage illustrated that fact that the Lightning were not on top of their game.
The teams were skating in a four-on-four to start the third and the Leafs added to their lead. Morgan Reilly joined a two-on-two, creating an odd-man rush. Kadri fed him the puck at the right circle and he roofed a wrist shot over Vasilevskiy’s glove. The Lightning did generate a few good looks in the minutes after that goal, but then those chances dried up. For much of the third, the Lightning had very little offensive zone possession time. That changed when Jon Cooper pulled Vasilevskiy for an extra attacker with three minutes left. The Lightning buzzed in the offensive zone, forcing Reimer to make several additional saves. Palat also hit the post twice. But the Bolts would get no closer and lost by the 3-1 final.
While the outcome and overall performance was disappointing, this game did mark the NHL debut of Slater Koekkoek. Afterwards, Koekkoek admitted to some nerves on his first few shifts, but he settled in quickly. In all, he had a solid first game, playing 15:31 with two shots on goal.
The Lightning will try to get back on track when the trip continues Thursday in Ottawa against the Senators, who are still alive for a postseason berth. They will play a desperate game and the Lightning will need to match that level of desperation.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Kadri’s goal, which gave the Maple Leafs an early lead.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.James Reimer – Maple Leafs. 40 saves for victory.
2.Nazem Kadri – Maple Leafs. Goal and assist.
3.David Booth – Maple Leafs. GWG.