TAMPA, Fla. — Nikita Kucherov put the puck on a tee for Steven Stamkos in a spot the place the Lightning captain has made a residing all through his banner 14-year profession.
Nearly everybody inside Amalie Arena thought the one-timer off the slick cross-ice move would discover the again of the web — together with Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe — and tie the rating with below seven minutes left in regulation.
“There was a bit of a sense on the bench that it was going in,” he mentioned. “Stamkos doesn’t miss those very much.”
Jack Campbell had different plans.
Toronto’s goaltender made that essential cease on a late Tampa Bay man benefit as a part of a 32-save efficiency after his teammates acquired to Andrei Vasilevsky early because the Leafs defeated the Lightning 5-2 on Friday to take a 2-1 lead of their first-round playoff collection.
David Kampf scored the winner, whereas Morgan Rielly, Colin Blackwell and Ilya Mikheyev, twice into the empty internet, had the opposite objectives for Toronto, which wrestled again home-ice benefit within the best-of-seven matchup. Pierre Engvall added three assists.
The Leafs jumped out to a 2-0 lead inside the primary 10 minutes and led by three lower than six minutes into the second interval earlier than the Lightning lastly responded.
Toronto bent — Keefe known as a timeout after Tampa made it 3-2 within the third with loads of clock left to run — however soaked up the stress on the again of Campbell’s stellar play.
“We stuck with it,” Leafs centre Auston Matthews mentioned. “Getting out to a lead early really benefited us. Soup made some unbelievable saves.
“All throughout our lineup guys stepped up when they had to and made plays when they had their push, when they got their momentum — taking a deep breath, fighting the panic.”
Ondrej Palat, with a aim and an help, and Ross Colton replied for Tampa. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 31 pictures for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.
“It’s pretty upsetting,” Colton mentioned. “We got here out flat. We can’t await them to go up a pair objectives for us to flip the change.
“We’ve got to come to the rink with a little bit more urgency.”
Game 4 goes Sunday evening again at Amalie Arena earlier than the collection returns to Toronto for Game 5 on Tuesday. Game 6, if vital, can be in Tampa on Thursday.
The Leafs at the moment are 13-0-0 when Kampf scores, together with twice within the playoffs after he buried one other whereas short-handed in Game 1.
Informed of that stat, the Czech centre — a stabilizer in Toronto’s bottom-6 ahead group since signing in free company final summer season — flashed a smile.
“That’s awesome,” he mentioned. “I didn’t know that … hopefully it will (keep) going.”
Campbell, in the meantime, has now outduelled Vasilevskiy — the 2019 Vezina Trophy winner — in two of three video games after Toronto took Monday’s opener 5-0 earlier than Tampa responded with a 5-3 win at Scotiabank Arena two nights later.
“(Vasilevskiy) has shown how good he is over the course of his NHL career,” Campbell mentioned. “It’s a fun challenge. I’d be lying if I said I don’t want to do my best to beat him.”
After the groups mixed for a parade to the penalty field and 22 energy performs via the primary two contests, Toronto linked on an early man benefit when Tampa winger Pat Maroon was whistled for delay of recreation.
Following a few attractiveness, Matthews and Mitch Marner each had pictures blocked in fast succession, however the puck discovered its strategy to Rielly at 4:54 off Michael Bunting’s skate for him to fireside previous Vasilevskiy.
“It’s a tough rink, the fans are into it,” Campbell mentioned. “Their team always come out buzzing. I thought we did a great job of having a strong start tonight, especially after Game 2.”
The Leafs then killed off a Lightning energy play after which raced the opposite approach on a 3-on-1 break after the penalty expired, with Ilya Lyubushkin — who got here out of the field — delaying earlier than feeding Blackwell to bury it right into a wide-open internet at 9:44 for the primary playoff aim of his profession.
“We’ve seen it a few times,” Matthews mentioned of the move from Lyubushkin, who’s identified extra for his play on the different finish of the rink. “When he needs to make plays like that he can make them. That was a beautiful pass.
“Caught us a little by surprise.”
Fans in Tampa, very like their Toronto counterparts in Games 1 and a couple of, voiced robust displeasure on the officers later within the interval following one other Lightning penalty, with chants of “Ref you suck!” echoing across the sold-out constructing.
The Leafs, who want to win their first playoff collection since 2004, had a 5-on-3 energy play for 25 seconds early within the second that the house aspect killed off, however Kampf made it 3-0 with an unassisted effort at 5:52 off a turnover within the impartial zone.
“That’s what the playoffs are all about,” Matthews mentioned. “There’s always guys that elevate their game and come through at certain times.
“Getting those two goals from Blackwell and Kamper were huge.”
Colton acquired the Lightning on the board at 11:03 on an influence play when he blasted a one-timer up excessive on Campbell. The Tampa ahead had an amazing likelihood to make it 3-2 a bit of later within the interval, solely to hit the publish with the Leafs netminder at his mercy.
Toronto had a golden alternative to revive its three-goal lead 5 minutes into the third, however Vasilevskiy stopped Matthews on a break and the 60-goal man’s rebound effort.
Palat made it 3-2 moments later at 5:43 when he wristed a shot over Campbell’s shoulder, prompting Keefe to take his timeout.
“Just to relax,” he mentioned of his message to the workforce. “It’s a combination of allowing me to talk to our team and settle down. It’s also just a little bit of an attempt to kill some momentum.
“We needed to just recognize that we were fine, that these are the games we need to win.”
Tampa acquired its third energy play of the evening with 7:46 left in regulation when Jake Muzzin went off for hooking to arrange Campbell’s huge cease on Stamkos.
“Sometimes the quality of players Tampa has are going to make great plays,” he mentioned. “They made a great play there.
“Fortunately it stayed out.”
Campbell held the fort from there till Mikheyev scored the primary two playoff objectives of his profession into the empty internet to safe the victory and a 2-1 lead within the collection.
“A big step,” Keefe mentioned. “We’re trying to be a team that wins these games. Sometimes they’re not perfect, they’re not the way you’d like it to be.
“But you need to find a way.”
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