Facing a critical Game 4 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed out of the gates en route to a convincing 7-3 victory to even the best-of-seven game series at two wins apiece. Ross Colton scored twice while Andrei Vasilevskiy had 22 saves.
The Lightning started the came with a sense of urgency that was sorely needed. They skated hard and fast, overwhelming the Maple Leafs and building a 5-0 lead after two periods.
A Badly-Needed Quick Start for the Lightning
It has been well documented how the Lightning bounces back after playoff losses. The latest quick fact from this is that they have played 51 postseason games since the last time they dropped two playoff games in a row. If the Lightning were to keep that streak alive, they “would need to start the game with a sense of urgency,” according to head coach Jon Cooper. The Lightning did just that as Steven Stamkos scored their first goal just one minute into the game. Pierre-Edouard Bellmare and Pat Maroon added goals shortly thereafter and they found themselves up 3-0 within the first eight minutes of the first period.
After goals by Colton and Corey Perry, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe pulled goaltender Jack Campbell in favor of Erik Kallgren with just under seven minutes left in the second period. Unlike the effort from Game 3, the Lightning came out swarming and did not let up in building their five-goal lead. On Friday, Stamkos and Kucherov had one shot on goal and one missed shot in the first two periods. In the third period, they combined for three shots on goal and five other misfires or blocked shots. That effort was immediately reversed when Stamkos scored the early goal on Sunday night, which was assisted by Kucherov and Victor Hedman. This is the kind of effort they need on a nightly basis going forward, not every other night.
Penalties are Having a Major Impact
Despite the reputation that officials have for calling penalties in playoff games, this series seems to have them calling games like it was the regular season. Going into last Friday night’s games, there have been 133 total power-play opportunities compared to just 99 at the same point last year. While penalties hurt the Lightning on Friday, it was the Maple Leafs’ turn on Sunday. As the Lightning had built up a five-goal lead at the end of two periods, Toronto had given them seven power-play opportunities. However, the Lightning only gave their opponents two attempts at the power play. While Perry scored the only goal on those seven attempts, giving up that many power plays not only takes a team out of their offensive rhythm, it saps energy from the team as well. Many of the Maple Leafs’ penalties were caused by the relentless pressure the Lightning put on them during the first two periods.
The Lightning recorded 21 penalties in the first three games of the series as Cooper believed penalties were the main reason why his team lost on Friday. He was also a little perplexed at the number of penalties called in the series, as compared to some other first-round matchups. He specifically noted the Pittsburgh Penguins-New York Rangers triple-overtime Game 1, when no whistles were blown after the second period. “How does that game not get a call for five-and-a-half periods?” Cooper stated. “I don’t know what’s going on.” However, he and the Lightning realize that they will have to play much smarter and avoid unnecessary penalties in order to avoid falling behind early in games.
The Lightning are Neutralizing Toronto’s Big Guns
Coming into the series, the Lightning realized that they were not going to shut down the Leafs top scorers such as Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. However, they did know that the task was to keep them from taking control of games. In Game 3, the Lightning had some success as the duo was held in check at even strength. On Sunday, the Matthews-Marner line was held without a goal and Matthews didn’t have a shot until the third period. Much of the credit goes to the Alex Killorn–Anthony Cirelli–Brayden Point line, as having the last line change at home has given this line the opportunity to be matched against Toronto’s top line and showcase their shutdown skills.
The Lightning have also done well against Toronto’s other top scorers. John Tavares has yet to score while William Nylander finally scored for the first time on Sunday. The Lightning will need to continue to be able to contain the Maple Leafs’ big guns and hopefully not give them too many scoring opportunities, especially on the power-play.
Related: 3 Lightning Players Who Need to Produce in the 2022 Playoffs
The series shifts back to Toronto on Tuesday night for Game 5. It will be curious to see if the two teams can actually reverse some interesting trends in this series, such as the winning team holding a three-goal lead in all four of the previous games.