The second of the Atlantic division foes’ four meetings comes just over a month after Bolts netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy stonewalled the Leafs by stopping 48 of 49 shots in a Lightning’s 4-1 home win, but Toronto goalkeeper Frederik Andersen would steal the spotlight this time as he stopped 36 shots on the way to leading his team to a 4-2 win over the Lightning.
The Leafs — who are now within 14 points of the Lightning in Atlantic Division standings — entered Thursday’s contest having lost five of their last seven games (and some frustrated boos from visiting fans could definitely be heard when Toronto’s William Nylander touched the puck).
The team looked ready to go toe-to-toe with the Bolts, but the Lightning struck first when Brayden point put a power play goal goal past Andersen with 9:48 left in the first. Just 96 seconds would come off the clock, however, before Toronto’s Nazem Kardi scored a rebound of his own to tie the game at 1-1.
The Bolts went down in the second period, tied it and then trailed again in a span of less than two minutes as the Leafs’ Patrick Marleau snuck one past Vasilevskiy with 6:17 left in a what was — until then — a nerve wracking frame. The Lightning’s Victor Hedman scored off a beautiful no-look pass from Nikita Kucherov 37 seconds later, but Toronto came right back 66 seconds after that when Mitchell Marner redirected a puck into the Lightning goal with 5:11 left in second.
The Bolts produced some impressive chances in a late-period power play, but went into the locker room down 3-2 after giving up 11 shots in the frame.
Toronto continued to frustrate a Tyler Johnson-less Lightning in the third, however, by getting sticks in front of shots and deflecting what felt like puck and after puck around the net. When the Lightning did get a shot on frame, Andersen was ready and able to make the stop. He must’ve stopped Stamkos at least seven times in the third period’s final minutes, and Molson-fueled Leafs fans were ready with well-deserved, celebratory “Freddy” chants.
Vasilevskiy played much better than the scoreboard would suggest, but the Lightning will be kicking themselves for not capitalizing on power plays (the Bolts when 1-4 with the man advantage). Tampa Bay’s fanbase will undoubtedly ask itself if this Bolts team can beat quality opponents after watching the boys fall to Western Conference favorite the San Jose Sharks almost two weeks ago and look outmanned against the Leafs on Thursday.
The Lightning will answer that question on Saturday when the Sharks visit for the second game of the Lightning’s two-game homestand (the All-Star break is after that). Puck drop on Saturday is at 7 p.m.