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Five Takeaways - Leafs vs. Lightning - 04/06/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday at Air Canada Centre:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

1. Leafs start off looking hungry, but both sides held off scoreboard in first frame. The Leafs were looking to atone for a flat effort Tuesday in a 4-1 loss to Washington, and Toronto was a more cohesive unit to start the night Thursday, doing a better job of working their cycle game to create space in Tampa Bay's zone, and using their speed to deny the Lightning quality scoring chances at the other end. That said, Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was on his game and stopped all 11 shots the Buds fired at him in the first 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, Toronto netminder Frederik Andersen was equally sharp in the opening period, turning aside all 13 Lightning shots he saw. As a result, the two teams entered the second frame in a 0-0 tie.

Video: TBL@TOR: Kadri tips Hunwick's shot past Vasilevskiy

2. Bolts get game's first goal in second period on power play marker, but Kadri evens things up shortly thereafter. Toronto had three power play opportunities through the first 24 minutes of action, but couldn't convert any of them into offence. And on Tampa's second man advantage of the night, centre Brayden Point scored his 15th goal of the year to give the Bolts a 1-0 lead at 7:34 of the second period.

However, 2:08 later, the Leafs evened things up when blueliner Matt Hunwick fired a shot towards Tampa's net from deep in the offensive zone, and centre Nazem Kadri deflected it in for his 32nd goal of the season as the ACC crowd erupted in joy. The quick answer-back was precisely what Toronto needed in a crucial game, and given the way Vasilevskiy was playing, it showed he could be solved.

3. Kucherov puts Lightning in front midway through middle period, Bolts carry lead into second intermission. The Bolts and Leafs considered Thursday's contest a desperation game, and Tampa Bay answered Kadri's goal with their second of the night thanks to winger Nikita Kucherov, who wired a pinpoint wrist shot past Andersen at 11:50 of the second.

Andersen couldn't be faulted on the goal, and he made several strong stops in the middle frame, including a spectacular glove save on a Lightning winger Jonathan Drouin that brought the crowd to their feet in appreciation. Still, Toronto entered the third period down a goal and had their work cut out for them against an opponent that was playing for their post-season lives.

4. Tampa Bay takes advantage of lax defensive coverage, adds pair of goals in the third. The Leafs' defensive coverage wasn't at its best to begin the third period, and the Lightning made them pay for it, extending the lead to 3-1 at the two-minute mark of the frame on a goal by winger Michael Bournival. The Bolts added to their advantage with 5:49 left in regulation on Point's second goal of the evening, and took away any chance Toronto had of getting back in it late and pulling Andersen for the extra attacker.

The Buds looked like a better team in some stretches than they showed in Tuesday's loss to the Capitals, but for the second straight game, they did not have the defensive structure and consistency of effort needed to win in a high-pressure, high-stakes contest like this one. Their offence only produced one goal for the second consecutive night, but it's the defensive element of the game that was most clearly lacking, and that must improve in their final two regular season games.
 
5. Eastern Conference playoff race tightens up, but Leafs still control their destiny. Toronto's loss, combined with Ottawa's win and the New York Islanders' victory Thursday, made the race for the final wild card berth in the Eastern Conference even tighter than it was entering the day's action. The Leafs now lead both the Isles and Lightning by three points, with each of the three clubs having two games left in their regular seasons. 

That said, Toronto still is in control of their playoff destiny, as a win against either Pittsburgh Saturday or Columbus Sunday will lock up a post-season slot for the Leafs. They need a better all-around effort to do so, but they've shown resilience throughout the year and normally bounce back from sub-par performances.

 

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