In a reminiscent showing in more ways than one, the Tampa Bay Lightning nipped the narratives in the bud with a comfortable 5-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 2 to even their first-round series at a game apiece.
Victor Hedman led the charge for the two-time defending champions, scoring the game's first goal and adding three assists, while Andrei Vasilevskiy added to his illustrious postseason record after a loss, making 31 saves for the victory. The Lightning netminder is now 15-0 in bounce-back opportunities dating back to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With the win, Tampa Bay answered each and every one of the questions being asked of the Lightning after serving up what coach Jon Cooper described as a "freebie" in the series-opening game. The Bolts broke down the Leafs' power play with remarkable ease after being stifled in Game 1. They neutralized the apparent speed disadvantage with tremendous organization through neutral ice. They were far better with their rush defence. They had an answer for just about every edge the Leafs were able to exploit in Game 1.
They did what they always do, which is to deliver the exact performance required to prevent falling too far behind in a playoff series.
It was familiar, too, for the Maple Leafs, in that it was another blown opportunity to seize control of a series in a sixth straight postseason appearance. Toronto wasn't able to brush off the deflating opening goal from Hedman scored with one second left in the first period. The penalty kill which had brought life to Scotiabank Arena seemed shaken, bringing Tampa's stars to life. The Leafs were caught out of position defensively on countless occasions. They were once again reduced to a one-line team, receiving virtually no contributions from the depths of the lineup.
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner made their marks, but John Tavares and the middle six didn't.
Goals went in, it seemed, at the worst times, while theirs were largely inconsequential.
There was that certain and familiar self-destructiveness, too, which might come as particularly concerning. The Leafs weren't given the benefit of the doubt from the referees, who once again called the game markedly liberally, but the Leafs took multiple unnecessary penalties in every period.
All told, the Leafs have spent over 22 minutes shorthanded across two games, which is no formula versus a team that helped revolutionize the attacking half of the special teams equation.
Everything the Leafs did so incredibly well in Game 1 was lost the moment Hedman used what little was left of the clock to fool Jack Campbell for the opening goal.
Six periods down and, despite late life, momentum now lies firmly with the Lightning as the series shifts back to Tampa.
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