Compared to Tuesday's performance against Montreal, this was a vast improvement for the Lightning. Heading into this contest, Lightning players stated that they wanted to a) bring a higher compete level and b) play better team defense. They can check both of those boxes. Despite the fact that this necessarily wasn't a high-intensity contest (both teams are locked into their respective playoff positions), the Lightning did compete hard and defended well.
There may have been a few turnovers - including one that led to Mitch Marner's first period goal - but as a whole, the Lightning managed the puck extremely well. In particular, they came out of their own end cleanly, which limited the amount of time they had to spend in the d-zone. As well, being aware of how dangerous the Leafs can be off the rush, the Lightning backchecked tenaciously. In all, they held the Leafs to a limited number of scoring chances. And Andrei Vasilevskiy, after allowing the one goal, denied every other shot that came his way.
The Leafs also defended well. Even though the Lightning owned a possession advantage, they didn't generate too many Grade-A chances of their own. But they converted on two of them - and that was enough to win them the game. Steven Stamkos got loose for a shorthanded breakaway goal in the second, tying the game at one. Then late in the third, the Lightning capitalized on a Leafs neutral zone turnover that coincided with a Toronto partial line chance. On the counter, Stamkos set up Alex Killorn for a one-timer in the high slot that sailed into the top of the net.
Not only did the Lightning win their 61st game, the second-most in NHL history, they hit some individual milestones, too. With two points, Stamkos reached 97 on the season, tying his career-high. Nikita Kucherov scored into an empty net - it was his 40th of the season, also tying a career-best. Ryan McDonagh posted two assists and now has a new career-high 45 points.
The regular season ends Saturday afternoon in Boston. With a victory, the Lightning would tie the 1995-96 Red Wings for the most-ever wins in a regular season. Just as significantly, the Lightning want to deliver another strong performance, one that will leave them feeling good about their game heading into the playoffs.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1. Steven Stamkos - Lightning. Goal and assist.
2. Andrei Vasilevskiy - Lightning. 29 saves.
3. Auston Matthews - Maple Leafs. Six shots.