Lightning Overtime Issues Spelled Doom Against the Maple Leafs

This is a playoff series that will haunt the Tampa Bay Lightning for a very long time. When John Tavares snapped a shot through traffic that ricocheted off the skate of Darren Raddysh and into the net, he gave the Toronto Maple Leafs a 2-1 overtime victory, clinching the best-of-seven series. The win also marked the third loss for the Lightning in overtime this series, continuing a pattern of struggles in the extra period going back to 2020.

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The last time the Lightning won a playoff game in overtime was in Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, when Patrick Maroon won an offensive zone faceoff, sending it back to Victor Hedman, who then passed it to Kevin Shattenkirk, whose shot from a sharp angle went over Dallas Stars’ goaltender Anton Khudobin’s right pad for the game-winning goal and a 3-1 series lead. Since then, the Lightning have lost ten straight playoff games in overtime.

The interesting fact about this is that it has not really impacted their playoff success until this season. They lost Game 5 in overtime but were 0-4 in overtime during their second straight Stanley Cup run in 2021. However, in those playoffs, they had a series lead at the time of each game, and none of them resulted in a huge momentum shift. In losing playoff games in overtime, interesting factors have played into these outcomes.

Lightning Bad Luck

The Tavares goal to end Game 6 was a perfect example of how luck plays a factor in overtime games. Head coach Jon Cooper discussed the overtime issues after the game. “To have the success we’ve had in the playoffs the last however many years, to have that record in overtime, it shows either how unlucky we’ve been of late or how good our team actually is to be able to hang around and go to three Finals when you’ve been in that many overtime losses.”

Head coach Jon Cooper
Head coach Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

In putting aside the fact that leads were lost in Games 2 and 3, a lucky break here or there from the Lightning would have ended the game with a different result. In Game 2, Nick Paul led a 2-on-1 break with a pass that Ross Colton nearly tipped in for a game-winning goal as Ilya Samsonov deflected the puck just enough to keep it out of the net. Consequently, Alex Kerfoot deflected a puck past Vasilevskiy to give Toronto the overtime win in Game 4. If that deflection was just an inch or two to the right of Vasilevskiy, it hits the post squarely and bounces out. Call it destiny or lady luck, but sometimes things don’t go your way in certain situations.

Lightning Style of Play

The Lightning’s style of hockey focuses on playing solid defense by limiting the opposition’s high-danger scoring chances and letting Vasilevskiy take care of the rest. They will then rely on offensive weapons like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point to generate some highly potent offensive chances while getting help from the other lines with some grinding shot attempts. This has been a fantastic system for years in the regular season but does not lend itself to the 5-on-5 sudden death overtime, especially against a highly potent offense like Toronto, compared to the Lightning winning eight of 14 games of 3-on-3/shootout games in the regular season.

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Going along with this style of play, the fatigue factor must be mentioned. The Lightning have played a lot of hockey in some unusual circumstances over the past three seasons. At the end of the last four games of the series, the Maple Leafs skated with about the same amount of energy, if not more, than they did at the start of the game. The Lightning, however, seemed to have many players that lost a step or two toward the end of games.

In comparing the regular season to overtime success, it should be noted that the Lightning won six of those eight overtime games before the calendar changed to 2023, including a win on Dec. 3 against the Maple Leafs. In the regular season, they were a plus-18 goal differential in the third period and overtime. They were not even close to that number against Toronto in the playoffs.

Roster Turnover

Before this recent turn of events, the Lightning were 14-4 in the postseason in overtime from 2014 to Game 4 of the 2020 Cup Final. Throughout the years, the players on that roster who were part of that overtime success and the success of getting to three straight Stanley Cup Final appearances were lost due to the team’s salary cap restrictions. Gone are the likes of reliable veterans such as Ondrej Palat, Barclay Goodrow, and Blake Coleman. In Palat, they lost one of their more potent and clutch playoff scorers, as he scored the game-winning goal in the 2022 Playoffs Games 3 and 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers and Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Colorado Avalanche.

Ondrej Palat Tampa Bay Lightning
Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

In addition to losing some offensive punch, the Lightning lost veteran blueliners such as Ryan McDonagh. Losing such defensemen and defensive-minded forwards like Goodrow and Coleman meant that the Lightning were less efficient in critical areas this series, such as clearing the front of the net and defending the middle of the ice. These were key issues late in games in the three overtime losses, which became even more prevalent after the Lightning lost Erik Cernak for the rest of the series to a concussion due to a Michael Bunting elbow to the head.

Related: Lightning Fans Should Cheer for the Maple Leafs

The proverb all good things must come to an end is certainly applicable to the Tampa Bay Lightning, as their attempt to play in a fourth straight Stanley Cup Final was thwarted by the outstanding play of the Maple Leafs. In looking back at this series, however, the Lightning can take pride in their effort but will be forever troubled by their inability to win at least a couple of the three games they lost in overtime.

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