Over the past couple seasons, the Stanley Cup Playoffs’ first round has represented a markedly divergent path for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s been a mere speed bump en route to the Stanley Cup for Tampa Bay but a full stop for Toronto, and the trend continued Saturday.
In Game 7 of their first-round playoff series, the Lightning kept their hopes of a third consecutive Stanley Cup alive with a 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs in Toronto. The Lightning will play the top-seeded Florida Panthers in the second round.
Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly tied the game at 1-1 with a goal at 13:25 in the second period, energizing a Scotiabank Arena crowd that hasn’t seen a first-round series win since 2004. But Lightning left wing Nick Paul — who opened the game’s scoring late in the first period — answered three minutes later with another goal to make it 2-1, a score that held until the final horn.
“He’s a gamer is probably the best way to describe him,” Lightning center Ross Colton said of Paul after the game. “He lives for these big moments. We acquired him for a reason and you could see that today.”
Toronto had 31 shots on goal compared to Tampa Bay’s 25, but Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy erased that advantage with a stellar 24-save performance. Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell made 29 stops in a losing effort.
It was a soul-crushing loss for Toronto, a team that’s now lost in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six consecutive seasons. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, survived a tough test and will face another soon in the President’s Trophy-winning Panthers.
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos thinks his team is ready for it.
“We fell back on the standard that’s set for this group and that’s to just do whatever it takes to win,” Stamkos said. “It doesn’t matter who does it, when, why. It’s just win. It’s certainly a contagious feeling and attitude. Very proud of this group, but that’s just one.”