the Maple Leafs they did everything they could to exorcise a long list of playoff demons.
Toronto rallied from another 2-0 deficit Thursday to take the lead heading into the third period of Game 6, putting the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions on the ropes.
Disaster then struck with a pair of high penalties in quick succession to give Rayo a two-man lead.
Tampa Bay wouldn’t fail, and then Brayden Point did what they always seem to do in the postseason: step up in the big moments.
The winger scored at 18:04 of overtime as the Lightning defeated the Leafs 4-3 to force a decisive Game 7 in their first-round series.
A key player during Tampa’s title runs, Point facilitated the game-winning shot over the goal line with a rebound between the legs of Leafs goalie Jack Campbell after Alex Killorn made the opening shot in extra period. which had leaned heavily in favor of Toronto.
The play began after Leafs sharpshooter Auston Matthews, who sparked his team’s comeback with a goal midway through the second, lost a lead in the neutral zone, allowing the Lightning to break through on the other side. .
“Our guys played hard,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Not much between the two teams. I loved how we played in extra time. We attacked, we had chances, lots of scoring chances, and we really didn’t give them anything.
“They did well in their one look… that’s the difference.”
Toronto, which hasn’t advanced to the second round since 2004 and is now 0-8 in elimination games in the last five playoffs, now heads home to host Game 7 on Saturday with a weight of history and anticipation as An anchor. collective neck.
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“What’s in the past is in the past,” Matthews said. “We can’t change anything now. It’s about this next game and going out with a purpose and details and just racing for 60 minutes or whatever it takes.
“We just have to put (everything) on the line and go for it.”
Ondrej Palat, Anthony Cirelli and Nikita Kucherov scored the other goals for the Lightning, which improved to a surprising 17-0 following a postseason loss from 2020.
“We know that all we did was buy ourselves another chance to continue our season,” said Point, who scored his second goal of the series. “Going into his building, his crowd has been swaying.”
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 30 shots, while Point also had an assist.
“I’m not surprised,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “With Pointer, it’s his time of year.”
John Tavares scored twice for Toronto, which earned 31 saves from Campbell. William Nylander added two assists.
The Leafs are 7-2 all-time at home in Game 7, but lost in a nearly empty Scotiabank Arena last season after blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Montreal Canadiens.
“We work hard all year to earn the right to have ice at home,” Toronto defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “Now is an opportunity to put that to work.”
Toronto’s last Game 7 victory in hockey’s biggest market came 18 years ago, the team’s last win in the series, when Joe Nieuwendyk scored twice to beat the Ottawa Senators.
“We had our appearance on OT, unfortunately we weren’t the ones getting paid,” Tavares said. “This is what the game is about. We have to move on from here, regroup and wait for the chance to go home.”
Vasilevskiy won each and every contest that makes up Tampa’s 17-0 record after losing the last three playoffs, posting a .942 save percentage with five shutouts.
The 2019 Vezina Trophy winner and last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner hasn’t been his usual stellar self in the series (his save percentage is .885), but he was good enough tonight, including nine stops on the extra period.
“We did a lot of good things, but we couldn’t get the job done,” Matthews said. “Now we return to the ice at home with another opportunity to close a series: life or death.
“Guys are excited about it, and I think we should be.”
Trailing 2-0 in the second after Cirelli’s breakout effort with Tampa behind, Matthews, named one of three Hart Trophy finalists for NHL MVP earlier in the day, responded with his fourth of the playoffs 54 seconds later when he deflected Mark Giordano’s point shot.
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Tavares then tied it with 33.7 seconds remaining in the period when Vasilevskiy was unable to control his shot with Jason Spezza hitting the fluttering puck.
The Toronto captain then gave his team, who also rallied from a 2-0 hole at home to win Game 5 by a score of 4-3, their first lead of the night with 7.8 seconds left on the clock. when he buried his third as many games inside a stunned Amalie Arena.
The Lightning got that two-man lead by 1:45 midway through the third when David Kampf and Alexander Kerfoot were whistled in quick succession, and Kucherov tied things up at 9:20 when he fired his second over Campbell.
The Leafs were furious that Kampf’s stick didn’t make contact with Lightning defender Cal Foote’s face on the first call. The visitors also complained that Point’s chin strap came undone just before Kucherov scored, but the goal stood.
“At that point it’s hard to accept,” Keefe said of Kampf’s decision. “But I have the advantage of a slow motion replay. Officials don’t, so they are in a difficult position.
“It’s the way the game works.”
A penalty-ridden series appeared to shift to a more traditional playoff style as referees let more pass on both sides.
“I have no comment on the referees,” said Tavares, who echoed Matthews and Rielly in his postgame media availabilities.
Brandon Hagel had a glorious opportunity to give Tampa the lead late in regulation, but missed the net from close range with Campbell at his mercy.
Toronto had a couple of big chances early in overtime, but Vasilevskiy was there to deny both Kerfoot and Ilya Mikheyev before Point won it.
After having their gates blown early on the same ice in Game 4 en route to suffering a 7-3 loss, the Leafs got off to a decent start but fell with the teams playing 4-on-4 late in the first.
Kerfoot made an ill-advised pass in the neutral zone to no one. Palat jumped over the fumble and closed in on Campbell before firing his third with 2:22 remaining in the period.
Vasilevskiy made big saves 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 dropped a man when Cirelli picked up the puck after a turnover by Mikheyev, Toronto’s second crucial error of the night, and moved up the offensive end. The Tampa center moved one-on-one against Giordano and used a spin-o-rama to create space before shooting low for his first of the series at 10:46.
The Leafs would respond before Lightning backed down.
Toronto now has one more chance to topple the champions and finally change the Original Six franchise’s ugly playoff narrative.
“We had a great opportunity here,” Tavares said. “We fight hard. I just didn’t get it.
“We have to find a way to cross the finish line.”
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