Nick Paul scored twice, including an incredible individual effort on the winner late in the second period as the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Toronto Maple Leaves 2-1 in Game 7 on Saturday to win their first-round playoff series 4-3.
Andrei Vasilevskiy made 30 saves for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.
Morgan Rielly answered for Toronto, which hasn’t advanced to the second round since 2004 and is now 0-9 in playoff games over the past five playoffs after also losing Game 6 by a score of 4-3 in Tampa two nights earlier.
Jack Campbell stopped 23 shots.
Despite their best efforts, the Leaves have again been unable to move on and ultimately turn around a long and ugly tale of playoff failures for a franchise that has now lost its past seven series, including six in a row dating back to 2017.
Toronto is now 7-3 at home in Game 7, including a loss at Scotiabank Arena last season after blowing a 3-1 lead against the Montreal Canadiens.
Led 1-0 after 20 minutes on Saturday, the Leaves appeared to tie the game at 11:28 of the second when John Tavares covered a shot on Vasilevskiy, but the goal was canceled after Toronto defender Justin Holl was called out for interference.
Campbell had to make a few desperate saves on the ensuing penalty to set the stage for Rielly’s equalizer on a setup from Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews to score his third of the playoffs at 6:35 a.m. to send the crowd of 19,316 into a chaotic frenzy.
The goal was the first abandoned by Vasilevskiy and the Lightning in their last six decisive games in the series.
William Nylander then missed high on a breakaway and the Tampa goaltender robbed Matthews with the Leaves buzzing.
But Paul scored his second of the night – and the second in playoff history – with 3:28 left in the period on a terrific play where he tossed the puck from his skate to his stick.
Tampa nearly went 3-1 late in the period when Kucherov hit Campbell’s post from the slot.
Vasilevskiy was besieged throughout a Leaves‘ power play just over six minutes into the third but kept the home side at bay despite furious pressure.
Toronto continued to crowd inside an anxious and tense rink as time ticked away.
the Leaveshowever, just couldn’t find a way with Campbell on the bench for an extra offense to end another chapter of playoff disappointment.
Both teams had great early breakthrough opportunities, but Vasilevskiy and Campbell were there at every turn.
Tavares nearly opened the scoring on a nice close chance where Vasilevskiy shot his left leg before the 2019 Vezina Trophy winner denied Marner.
Campbell then held the fort on a Lightning power play on some great looks for the visitors.
Brayden Point, who scored the winner in Tampa’s Game 6 win to extend the streak, was injured late in the first when his right leg got caught under him as he fell to the ice. The winger – in agony as he made his way down the tunnel to the locker room – tried to come back for the second half but shut it down after a brief shift.
The Lightning went up 1-0 moments after Point fell in the first when Paul, who had a number of chances in Game 5 with his team up front before Toronto roared, scored his first.
Campbell made the first save on Ross Colton’s one-timer on the run that nicked Rielly’s stick, but the rebound fell on Paul at 1:36 as Toronto gave up first goal for a fourth straight game.
The Lightning were playing just their second Game 7 since the start of the 2020 playoffs after beating the New York Islanders 1-0 at home in the semifinals last June.
Toronto’s last Game 7 at home with fans – the club’s 2021 loss to Montreal was played in front of 550 healthcare workers due to COVID-19 restrictions – since 2004, when Joe Nieuwendyk scored twice to oust the Ottawa Senators.
the Leaves didn’t make the playoffs again until 2013, when they collapsed in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins. The club’s new generation made the playoffs for the first time in 2017 but suffered a series of heartbreaks that continued on Saturday night.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 14, 2022.