TAMPA BAY, Fla. (FNN SPORTS) – Toronto Maple Leafs center Mitchell Marner scored on a pass from Leafs leading point man John Tavares at 14:49 of the second period and then stopped the Tampa Bay Lightning with an aggressive third period forecheck in taking down the Lightning 4-2 at Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday evening.
Tavares’ pass caught Marner’s blade as he caught Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy leaning to his right to score the game winner.
Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen withstood a barrage of shots from Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman before Zach Hyman corralled the puck and scored on an empty-netter at 19:10.
“Frederick played great and they scored two more,” said Hedman, who came away with a goal and an assist. “We had a lot of good looks but it just wasn’t going for us.”
Tampa Bay seemed to gain momentum when Hedman tied the game at 2-2 as he wasted little time in picking up his sixth goal of the season at 13:46 when he fired the puck past Andersen on the subsequent shift after Patrick Marleau’s go-ahead goal.
Nikita Kucherov set up Hedman with a drop pass and he picked up his 54th assist of the season while Brayden Point collected his 33rd helper.
“We played well enough to win the game,” said Lightning coach John Cooper. “The third goal was tough just because we turned the puck over a couple of times and what was perceived to be a simple retrieval wound up in the back of our net. That was a structural miscue on our part but we had our chances.”
Tampa Bay took an early 1-0 lead on a power play goal when Point knocked in a rebound off the stick of Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev in front of the net.
Hedman fired a rocket at the net which Zaitsev was unable to collect as Point was in position to push the puck under Andersen’s right blocker.
Point scored the Lightning’s 46th power play goal of the season and the first in three games. It was Point’s 13th power play marker on the season as he has a total of 21 points on the extra man advantage as well.
With the goal, Point became the first player in the NHL to reach 30 goals and 30 assists this season.
The Maple Leafs bounced back two minutes later when Nazem Kadri picked up his 10th goal of the season at 11:48. Kadri picked up the puck off Vasilevskiy’s blocker after Kasperi Kapanen fired a laser in front of the Lightning goalie.
“We have to generate a little more 5-on-5 and that helps,” said Cooper. “We had some good looks. It was tough to come out of the second period down one. We had a good period and they came out with the lead and we pushed them for a bit and we started chasing it for a five-minute period and got a little life and we got back for the last five minutes and had our chances.
Despite the loss, the Lightning still have a commanding 14-point lead in the Eastern Conference with 74 points while the second place Leafs have 60.
“You want to win every night, I don’t care who we are playing,” commented Stamkos, who assisted Point’s goal. “You get teams’ best. You are gonna play some teams that are more talented than others. We want to win, that is the end goal. This isn’t playoff hockey yet it doesn’t have the same feel, so you can’t replicate a playoff game.”