Maple Leafs Extend Winning Streak to Four-in-a-Row Over Tampa Bay

Toronto (4) Tampa Bay (3) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Maple Leafs have seen a return to dominance as of late and remain a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference. With wins in seven of their last eight games, Toronto’s new-look lineup entered Monday gunning for their fourth-straight in front of an always spirited home crowd.

If the Buds were to walk away with yet another victory, they would have to go through the Atlantic Division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning in order to do so. 

Steven Stamkos and Andrei Vasilevskiy marched their fearsome squad into the Air Canada Centre with a head full of steam and two-straight wins already in the bank. Stamkos entered with a particularly hot-hand and goals in back-to-back games, while Vasilevskiy simply looked to improve upon his bid for the Vezina Trophy and league-leading 33-wins.  

There’s no question that when two high-profile teams meet, they will be examined against one another—and tonight was no different.

“We’re about 60 games into the schedule, so this is a little bit of a measuring stick,” Nazem Kadri said of the Presidents' Trophy contender. 

Lightning head coach, John Cooper, also described the head-to-head in a similar manner but was quick to dismiss a notion that this was not just as much of a test for his own team, 

“They can say it’s a measuring stick game, but I think that goes both ways.” 

It turns out he wasn’t exactly wrong, either… Toronto quickly took control of the game’s momentum with a strong opening period which featured a noteworthy 56% Corsi For rating.

Auston Matthews and William Nylander went on to flex their scoring prowess and break the ice at the 11:55 mark. The dynamic duo went to work after Matthews’ offensive zone face-off victory found its way back to himself, after Jake Gardiner’s shot got blocked at the blue line. With the puck on his stick, Matthews immediately located his partner-in-crime for a jaw-dropping one-timer past Vasilevskiy.

Tampa Bay nearly tied the game towards the end of regulation but came up short as Frederik Andersen continues to make his own case for Vezina consideration. Tyler Johnson appeared speechless after the Danish puck-stopper came up with a stellar breakaway save to preserve his team's 1-0 advantage.

Toronto began the second period with a similar enthusiasm and soon saw William Nylander’s second goal of the night materialize. 

The dynamic duo was back at it again—but not without a new addition to the group, Mitch Marner. His contribution came in the form of a forced turnover, which Matthews scooped-up before sending Nylander on a clear-cut breakaway. With a back-checking Braydon Coburn draped across his back, Nylander proved able to get a shot away and beat Tampa Bay’s goaltender with a flick of the wrist—notching his 14th goal of the season.

Believe it or not, this is the first time the trio have all connected on one goal.

Jake Gardiner later added an insurance tally to make it a 3-0 stranglehold. The duo of Matthews and Nylander found the scoresheet once again, with each registering an assist on the play for their third point's of the game.

At some point the good times must come to an end, however, it usually doesn’t happen as abruptly.

Alex Killorn ended Andersen’s shutout bid and got Tampa Bay on the board with a strike towards the end of the second. Tampa Bay carried that momentum over into the third period, going on to tie the game within a span of 0:22 seconds.

Nikita Kucherov posted his 30th goal of the campaign just 0:58 seconds into the period, becoming just the third player to reach the milestone so far this season after Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, respectively. Ron Hainsey attempted to knock down an aerial dump-in but instead dropped the puck for Kucherov to conveniently pick up, shoot, and score.

It didn’t take long for the Lightning to strike twice, as Yanni Gourde posted his 21st goal in succession to fully erase what was once a three-goal deficit. 

Despite giving up three-straight goals, Toronto responded rather quickly and managed to restore a lead before the end of regulation time. It took all-but three minutes for one of Toronto’s four deep lines to step up and record the go-ahead goal. 

Tyler Bozak entered the zone with speed and took advantage of a shooting lane, releasing a shot off of Vasilveskiy’s far-side pad to produce a juicy rebound. Luckily for Toronto, James van Riemsdyk was already driving towards the net and managed to converge upon the puck before potting his 23rd goal of the campaign. 

Connor Brown also provided an essential screen to obscure the goaltender’s vision.

No matter how hard Tampa Bay pushed, they proved unable to find an equalizer before the final buzzer sounded to conclude the game. It just goes to show how tough the league truly is, and namely, the Atlantic Division's top three seeds. 

Additionally, a win such as this one sends a strong indication to upper-management about the team’s overall potential as we near the trade deadline—Mike Babcock may just get his wish for reinforcements after all. 

Toronto will be looking to make it five wins in-a-row on Wednesday night as they host the Columbus Blue Jackets, puck drop is set at 7:00 p.m. EST.

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Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs