Auston Matthews is fully aware that Toronto still has work to do, despite their recent success. Toronto managed to capitalize on Tampa Bay’s late game struggles, putting them on the cusp of their first playoff series victory in almost 20 years after a 5-4 overtime triumph in Game 4 of the seven-game battle.
Toronto has not been successful in winning a playoff series since 2004 and has faced elimination in the first round for the last six postseasons. This includes last year when Tampa Bay made a comeback from 2-1 and 3-2 deficits to win in seven games.After Alexander Kerfoot’s power-play goal in overtime gave the Maple Leafs a 3-1 series lead, Matthews commented, “The fourth one is the hardest to get.”
Though coach Sheldon Keefe acknowledged that the feeling is different, he emphasized the need for the team to stay grounded and not get ahead of themselves.
“The coach acknowledged the challenge ahead as they prepare for Game 5 in Toronto on Thursday night,” stated the coach. The Lightning have been dominant in the playoffs, winning 11 out of 12 series in the last three seasons and securing the Stanley Cup championship twice in a row. Matthews acknowledged the impressive accomplishments of the opposing team and the tough task that lies ahead.
Alex Killorn tallied two goals to help the Lightning establish a 4-1 advantage, which was overturned by three goals from the Maple Leafs, two of which were scored by Matthews within a span of 6 minutes and 20 seconds. Morgan Rielly also scored his second goal of the series, tying the game 4-4 at 16:04 of the third period. Toronto managed to force an overtime for the second time in three nights, with Ryan O’Reilly scoring a goal with one minute left in regulation to keep them alive in Game 3. O’Reilly eventually clinched the game in the 19:45 mark of OT to give the Maple Leafs a 2-1 series lead. “We scored enough goals to win. You’ve got to keep them out of your net,” commented Lightning coach Jon Cooper.
The Lightning got goals from Mikhail Sergachev and Steven Stamkos. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 32 shots and made crucial saves in the overtime period before Alexander Kerfoot redirected Mark Giordano’s shot to secure the victory for the Maple Leafs. Toronto’s Noel Acciari scored his second consecutive game by deflecting a shot from Juston Holl past Vasilevskiy in the second period. However, Tampa Bay extended their lead with goals by Stamkos and Killorn, making it 4-1.
Cooper mentioned that there might have been a sense of confidence that they would win, but Toronto had different plans. The Maple Leafs were lucky that they were only down 2-0 at the end of the first period. Despite goalie Ilya Samsonov stopping Brandon Hagel’s penalty shot early in the game, the Lightning’s perseverance paid off as Killorn and Sergachev scored their first goals of the series with the help of Nikita Kucherov’s precise passes.
In two instances during the game, Samsonov was in a good position to block a potential shot from Kucherov. However, Kucherov passed the puck to Killorn and Sergachev from the right circle instead. Killorn managed to score his first goal during a power play, and his second goal was achieved through a shot from the left circle that went past Samsonov to the far post, giving the team a three-goal advantage. Samsonov was able to block 27 shots overall.
Despite their victory in the first game of the series with a margin of four goals, the Lightning have suffered three consecutive losses leading up to Game 5. However, Coach Cooper remains optimistic, stating that one should consider the overall situation, and the team continues to prepare for the upcoming games. He emphasized that the series is not over yet.
Brayden Point of Tampa Bay played in Monday night’s game despite falling headfirst into the boards while fighting for the puck with Morgan Rielly of Toronto. Morgan Rielly was initially charged with a five-minute major penalty for boarding, but the decision was eventually overturned. This hit caused several skirmishes and separate fights, including Steven Stamkos against Auston Matthews and Kucherov against Ryan O’Reilly. Point returned after six minutes and played the rest of the game. The coach of the Lightning, Jon Cooper, had previously stated that the high-scoring center’s participation would be decided at game-time. Point contributed to the team’s score with an assist on Sergachev’s goal in the first period, giving Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead.