TAMPA, Fla. — Brayden Point scored at 18:04 of overtime as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 on Thursday to force a seventh and deciding game in their first-round playoff series.
The winger buried the winner on a rebound between the legs of Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell after Alex Killorn took the initial shot.
Ondrej Palat, Anthony Cirelli and Nikita Kucherov had the other goals for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, who improved to an eye-popping 17-0 following a post-season loss since 2020.
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 30 shots. Point also had an assist for a two-point night.
John Tavares, with two, and Auston Matthews replied for Toronto, which hasn’t moved onto the second round since 2004 and is now 0-8 in elimination games over the last five playoffs.
Jack Campbell made 31 saves. William Nylander added two assists.
The Leafs will now head home for Saturday’s Game 7 desperately looking to exorcise the demons of past spring failures with the weight of history and expectation hanging around their collective neck.
Toronto is 7-2 all-time at home in Game 7s, but lost at Scotiabank Arena last season after blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Montreal Canadiens.
Vasilevskiy has won each and every one of the contests that make up Tampa’s 17-0 record after a loss in the last three playoffs, putting up a .945 save percentage with five shutouts in 16 victories before Thursday.
The 2019 Vezina Trophy winner and last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy recipient hasn’t been his usual stellar self in the series — his save percentage stood at .880 heading into Thursday — but did enough on this night to get his team to Game 7.
Trailing 2-0 in the second period after Cirelli’s highlight-reel effort with Tampa short-handed, Matthews — named one of three finalists for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP earlier in the day — responded with his fourth of the playoffs 54 seconds later when he tipped Mark Giordano’s point shot.
Tavares then tied it with 33.7 seconds left in the period when Vasilevskiy couldn’t control the rebound with Jason Spezza swatting at the fluttering puck before it bounced over the goal line.
Toronto’s captain then gave his team — which also fought back from a 2-0 deficit at home to win Game 5 by a 4-3 scoreline — its first lead of the night with 7.8 seconds remaining on the clock when he buried his third in as many games inside a stunned Amalie Arena.
The Lightning got a two-man advantage for 1:45 midway through the third when David Kampf and Alexander Kerfoot were whistled for high-sticking in quick succession, and Kucherov tied the score at 9:20 when he fired his second on Campbell.
The Leafs complained Tampa forward Brayden Point’s chin strap was undone during the sequence, but the goal stood.
Brandon Hagel then had a glorious chance to give Tampa the lead late in regulation, but he missed the net from in tight with Campbell at his mercy.
Toronto had a couple great chances early in overtime, but Vasilevskiy was there to deny both Kerfoot and Ilya Mikheyev.
After getting their doors blown off early on the same ice in Game 4 on the way to suffering a 7-3 loss, the Leafs had a decent start, but went down with the teams playing 4-on-4 late in the first.
Kerfoot made an ill-advised drop pass in the neutral zone to no one. Palat jumped on the turnover and moved in on Campbell before firing his third of the playoffs under Campbell’s blocker with 2:22 left in the period.
Tampa got the game’s first power play with 28 seconds left in the period, but the Leafs survived and got to the intermission despite Lightning captain Steven Stamkos rattling Campbell’s mask on a wicked one-timer.
Vasilevskiy made big stops on Ilya Lyubushkin and Matthews on the rebound early in the second before the Leafs got their first power play.
But it was the Lightning that struck down a man when Cirelli picked up the puck following a Mark Giordano turnover — Toronto’s second crucial mistake of the night — and moved into the offensive zone. The Tampa centre moved in one-on-one against Giordano and used a spin-o-rama to create space before firing low on Campbell for his first of the series at 10:46.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2022.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press