Lightning Down Maple Leafs to Reach 60-Win Plateau

TORONTO — Steven Stamkos scored once and also set up Alex Killorn’s winner with under six minutes to go in regulation as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 on Thursday.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 29 shots for Tampa (61-16-4), which became just the second team in NHL history to win more than 60 games in a season. NHL scoring leader Nikita Kucherov added his 40th goal of the season into an empty net.

Mitch Marner replied for Toronto (46-28-7). Frederik Andersen made 26 saves in taking the loss.

Tampa Bay Lightning Mikhail Sergachev Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Mikhail Sergachev trips up Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitch Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

The Leafs wrap up the regular season Saturday in Montreal against the Canadiens, while the Lightning visit the Boston Bruins.

Tied 1-1 in the third period, Stamkos threw a pass back into the slot to Killorn, who beat a down-and-out Andersen with a fluttering shot into the top of the net for his 18th goal of the season with 5:48 left in regulation.

The Leafs pressed for the tie with Andersen on the bench, but Vasilevskiy stopped Patrick Marleau from in tight with his left pad on Toronto’s best chance before Kucherov sealed it.

The game in front of a crowd of 19,400 at Scotiabank Arena was meaningless in the standings with both clubs locked in their spots — Tampa clinched the Presidents’ Trophy for the NHL’s best regular-season record on March 18, while Toronto is cemented in the Atlantic Division’s No. 3 seed.

The Leafs are set to open their playoffs next week against Boston at TD Garden, the same building where they lost in Game 7 to the Bruins in last spring’s first round. The Lightning will meet the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card team.

Tied 1-1 through two period, John Tavares had a chance off a spinning pass from Marner that Vasilevskiy got a piece of about six minutes into the third. Andersen denied Yanni Gourde and Brayden Point on back-to-back efforts off the rush.

Vasilevskiy then robbed Tavares again with his glove with under seven minutes left to set up Killorn’s winner.

Down 1-0 after the first, the Lightning got even at 5:37 of the second with the Leafs on a power play. Stamkos took a long pass from Ryan McDonagh before snapping a shot glove side on Andersen that the Toronto goalie could only get a piece of for the Tampa captain’s 44th goal of the campaign, and first while short-handed.

Ryan McDonagh, Tampa Bay Lightning
Ryan McDonagh, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Vasilevskiy stretched to deny Auston Matthews moments before goal on a rebound off the end boards.

Anthony Cirelli rang a shot off the post behind Andersen with the team’s playing 4 on 4 right off a neutral zone faceoff after Stamkos equalized.

Andersen then stopped Stamkos, who limped to the bench right before his goal, on another blast and also thwarted Tyler Johnson late in the period.

Without a goal in his last 14 games coming into Thursday, Leafs winger Kasperi Kapanen had a late chance, but his spinning backhand was turned aside by Vasilevskiy.

Tampa Bay Lightning Andrei Vasilevskiy
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (AP Photo/Tom Gannam, File)

Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner returned to the lineup after missing 18 games with a back injury, while winger Andreas Johnsson recovered from an illness that kept him out of Toronto’s last two outings. Blue-liner Jake Muzzin (illness), who also sat out Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to Carolina, and Nazem Kadri (maintenance) didn’t dress for Toronto.

William Nylander centred the Leafs’ third line between Johnsson and Connor Brown with Kadri out.

The Lightning were minus star defenceman Victor Hedman for a third straight game after he was involved in a collision against the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

Toronto opened the scoring at 4:41 on the first period when Marner disrupted a Lightning attack at the Leafs’ blue line, got the puck back from Zach Hyman to create a 2-on-1 break the other way and beat Vasilevskiy between the pads for his 26th.

Andersen, who is looking to find his rhythm ahead of the playoffs after some shaky outings, made a terrific save on Mikhail Sergachev midway through the period, snapping his glove out to grab a quick shot off a feed from Kucherov.

Vasilevskiy then flashed some leather at the other end, getting a piece of Marleau’s effort to keep his team within one through 20 minutes.


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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press