Bolts beat Leafs to advance in playoffs

by Gary Shelton on May 15, 2022

in general

Vasilevskiy was good in the crucial game./TIM WIRT

Sunday, 4 a.m.

Big moment. Big man. Big pressure.

Big Cat.

If you are comparing seasons, Andrei Vasilevskiy didn't have his finest season for the Tampa Bay Lightning. But in the team's biggest game of the season, he was once again a guard dog at the net. Vasilevskiy stopped 30 of 31 shots, leading the Bolts to a 2-1 series victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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Paul scored both Lightning goals./TIM WIRT

Nick Paul, acquired at the trade deadline, scored both goals for the Bolts.

Vasilevskiy, last season's Conn Smythe winner as MVP of the playoffs, gave up 24 goals in the seven games. But he was sharp from the outset on Sunday, and the Bolts' defense was fierce -- shutting out Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Vasilevskiy stopped all 17 shots in the third period.

The Bolts now advance to play the Florida Panthers, the President's Cup winners, beginning next week.

"That’s where you lean on some past experience," said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. "That ability to just grind it out. We lose (Brayden) Pointer early. That’s huge. I can’t say how huge a loss that is in a game seven."

Point injured his leg with 2:40 to play in the first period. He tried to return in the second period but could not go.

"There’s no worse feeling that not being out there with the guys in games like this," Stamkos said. "It's the most nerve-wracking thing in hockey watching your teammates go and you can’t help them out. Especially when it's a player like Pointer, who is a warrior on the ice. To see him in pain like that it’s tough.

"But give our group a lot of credit. It could have been a night where you go ‘oh, Pointer’s done. It’s going to be one of those nights. But we didn’t. We fell back on the standard that’s set for this group. It doesn’t matter who does it or why. Just win."

Cooper thought the loss of Point might have actually sharpened the focus of his team.

"You're going to see adversity rear its head in so many ways," Cooper said. "Sometimes, with an urgency that was already there, it kicks something into gear. The Leafs had a good start. When Pointer got hurt, it seemed to lock the entire team in and I don’t think we looked back after that."

Paul, who grew up watching the Leafs, scored his first two goals of the playoffs.

"We stuck together as a team," Paul said. "Everyone brought their A-game. Blocking shots, being detailed, being hard on pucks, winning their battles. "

For the Bolts, it was the ninth straight series win in the playoffs. For Toronto, it continued a streak of not winning a playoff series since 2004.

Stamkos defended the Leafs, however.

"It’s a great hockey team," Stamkos said. "No doubt they’ve got all the pieces. It’s not easy this time of the year. We’ve talked about it as a group. We’ve had some failures in the past. You move on. You have to get over that hump. It’s not that  they’re not worthy of it. "

For the Bolts, it was one of the most contested series, and one in which they had to win back-to-back games to advance.

Point was hurt in the third period./TIM WIRT

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