Lightning hold off Maple Leafs in Game 5, stay alive in Eastern 1st Round
The Tampa Bay Lightning stayed alive in the Eastern Conference First Round with a 4-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 5 at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday.
Toronto leads the best-of-7 series, 3-2. Game 6 will be in Tampa on Saturday.
“I think that was an answer tonight,” Tampa Bay forward Nicholas Paul said. “Even after the last couple of games when we let it slip, we knew we were coming to Toronto, we’re winning this and we’re taking it back home.”
Michael Eyssimont and Anthony Cirelli each had a goal and an assist, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 28 saves for the Lightning, the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic Division who lost Games 3 and 4 at home.
“They dug their heels in tonight, and I think who really dug his heels in tonight was [Vasilevskiy],” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “His name has come up a lot for various reasons over the last couple days, and I think he proved he could handle the high shots.”
Morgan Rielly and Auston Matthews scored, John Tavares had two assists and Ilya Samsonov made 34 saves for the Maple Leafs, the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic. They are 0-11 in their past 11 opportunities to eliminate an opponent.
“We’re just confident with our group,” Rielly said. “We’re here for a reason, we play good hockey, we beat them in this series and can do it again. We didn’t expect them to roll over, and now it’s important for our group to go on the road with a mission.”
Eyssimont put the Lightning up 2-1 at 4:23 of the second period with his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal. He skated wide around Justin Holl and shot between Samsonov’s pads from the bottom of the left face-off circle. It was Eyssimont’s first game since sustaining an upper-body injury in Game 1.
“I had to get around that [defenseman] and he’s a great goalie, so sometimes you have to be a little crafty and it’s just (a move) I’ve worked on with (assistant coach Jeff Halpern) at morning skates, so I figured I’d try it,” Eyssimont said.
Vasilevskiy preserved the one-goal lead at 5:11 of the third period when he stopped Mitchell Marner on a breakaway.
“Ever since I’ve come to Tampa, each and every night, Vasilevskiy has been our best player,” Cirelli said. “He’s back there making saves for us, he’s a rock for us back there and when he’s making those saves, he gives us huge momentum boosts, keeps us in games and gets us going.”
Paul made it 3-1 at 11:53 when he got to a loose puck in the slot and shot past a sprawling Samsonsov. It ended a 30-game goal drought (final 26 regular-season games and first four playoff games). He had scored once in his previous 42 games (regular season and playoffs).
“I’ve been waiting for that one for a little bit, but pucks on net is a good shot, so it ended up in the net and now [it’s] time to get hot,” Paul said.
Matthews cut it to 3-2 at 16:26 when he put in a rebound at the side of the net after Tavares deflected Marner’s shot with Samsonov pulled for a 6-on-5 advantage, but Alex Killorn scored an empty-net goal with five seconds remaining for the 4-2 final.
“We had some good chances and didn’t capitalize on them,” Matthews said. “We were in a good position at 2-1 heading into the third, and I just think the third goal puts ourselves in a tough hole to get out of. We kept fighting to the end, but obviously it wasn’t enough.”
Rielly put Toronto up 1-0 at 5:46 of the first period when he took a backhand pass from Tavares behind the net that went off the stick of Matthew Knies and shot past Vasilevskiy’s glove from the slot.
Cirelli tied it 1-1 just 26 seconds later at 6:12, scoring on a rebound at the top of the goal crease over Samsonov’s outstretched right pad.
“I think it’s huge [for them] to get one early,” Cirelli said. “Their crowd is into it, so to answer right away was a huge momentum swing for us, and we kind of got going after that.”
Vasilevskiy kept it 1-1 at 16:11 when he made two saves on Calle Jarnkrok in the slot while the Maple Leafs were on the power play, and then another save on William Nylander, who was alone in the slot, at 16:52.
“When you have a team like this, you don’t want to let these opportunities slide,” Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We’ve got a phenomenal team. [We] have all the tools, and these are the type of games you want to play. There’s question in that room about fatigue or that we’ve played a lot of hockey.
“These are the type of games we want to play. It was a tough situation going into a place like this with our backs up against the wall, but I think we responded really well.”
Game 5 Lineup@JackpotCityCA | #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/r2TeDk6kjj
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 27, 2023
Game six Saturday@LGCanada | #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/5nB19v0wgu
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 28, 2023