Tampa Bay Emerges Victorious in Battle of the Atlantic Division's Top Teams

Tampa Bay (4) Toronto (3) Final (SO)

By: Gordon Brown

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Not only was Monday the NHL’s annual trade deadline day, but it also marked a key matchup between the top two Atlantic Division seeds.

Toronto and Tampa Bay would meet for their third matchup of the season, with either team looking to break a 1-1 tie in the season series. There’s no question that each team will have their eye’s set on home ice advantage in the playoffs down the final stretch.

The Maple Leafs had their heavy lifting finished 24 hours before the actual deadline, acquiring long-time Montreal Canadiens centre, Tomas Plekanec, to add some depth down the middle. The 15-year veteran dawned the number 19, becoming the first to do so in game action since Joffrey Lupul.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay made the splash of the day in trading for Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller from the New York Rangers in arguably the day’s biggest deal. McDonagh would not be available to make his Lightning debut.

As it would be expected, a stiff goaltending matchup between two front-runners for the Vezina Trophy, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Frederik Andersen, headlined the evening. In ten career game versus the Maple Leafs, Vasilevskiy entered with an impressive .921 SV%.

Not to mention his 19-4-1 home record this season…

Tampa Bay struck early and made a statement in front of their home crowd, forcing the Maple Leafs back on their heels early.

Chris Kunitz notched his 11th tally of the season with a tip-in off of Andrej Sustr’s initial shot from the point, effectively breaking the ice just 1:41 into the opening frame. 

The scoring remained quiet until Toronto managed to flip the script and score twice in the span of 1:03 to take a 2-1 advantage mid-way through the second period. Both James van Riemsdyk (26) and Mitch Marner (17) scored, respectively, to silence the home crowd.

A quick turnaround saw the Lightning retake the lead with two goals in the second period, courtesy of Tyler Johnson (18) and Adam Erne (2). Tampa Bay dominated the pace of play with an overwhelming 80.77 CF% as the Lightning pressed a commanding attack against Toronto.

As the final twenty minutes of regulation rolled around, Tyler Bozak (10) proved to be the Maple Leafs’ saving grace once again and potted the equalizer to make it a 3-3 game. The power play marker would help send the game to an eventual overtime, with assists coming courtesy of Mitch Marner (36) and Morgan Rielly (31). 

Later in the frame, Mitch Marner had a prime opportunity to propel his team into the lead after being awarded a penalty shot, only for Vasilevskiy to come up with a stellar save. With the score tied at 3-apiece, this game was destined for overtime.

Following the standard five minute overtime, the decision was yet to be finalized and a shootout remained necessary. It wasn’t for a lack of opportunity, either, as both Andersen and Vasilevskiy were forced to come up several game-saving stops. 

The shootout featured one lone goal-scorer, reigning from the home team. Brayden Point placed a perfect wrist shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy, scoring as his team’s second shooter—ultimately winning the game 4-3 for Tampa Bay. 

The division rivals will meet one last time in several week’s time, as Tampa Bay plays host once again on March 20th to wrap-up the season series. Toronto’s focus will shift to Florida for tomorrow’s matchup, where they will travel for the second leg of this back-to-back situation to play a Panthers team sitting on the playoff bubble.

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E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca 

On Twitter - @GordBrown_  

Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs

Advanced Stats: NaturalStatTrick.com