Bolts clobber Toronto in playoff opener

by Gary Shelton on April 19, 2023

in general

Point had two goals against Leafs./TIM WIRT

Wednesday, 4 p.m.

Somewhere in the bowels of Amalie Arena, perhaps the switch really exists.

It is there that the Lightning, following another year of looking rather ordinary in the regular season, sneaks in just before the playoffs begin.

Perhaps it is that the switch is flipped, and just like that, the Lightning is a team of consequence once again.

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Kucherov scored late in the first period./TIM WIRT

It certainly seems that way. The Lightning finished second in their division in 2020 ... and won the Stanley Cup. They finished third in 2021 ... and won the Stanley Cup. They finished third last year ... and played for the Stanley Cup.

This year? This year the Bolts finished third again, looking weary and unfocused.

Yet, on Tuesday night, the Bolts were the same old bunch as they opened the Stanley Cup, blasting the favored Toronto Maple Leafs 7-3.

The Bolts scored on four power plays, and they got goals in the dying seconds of the first and second period. At no time this season had the Bolts scored seven before Tuesday night.

In Toronto, that means Leafs‘ fans are bracing for the worst already. In the last 10 seasons, the Leafs have made the playoffs seven times. They have yet to win a series, however.

Bolts coach Jon Cooper pointed out there is "a lot of runway left" in this series, and yes, Toronto might win it. But he also praised his team, which has been impressive in the post-season.

"You want to win every game," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "You want to play well. The reality is it just doesn’t happen when you play 82, or when you play 25 in the post-season. You can’t be perfect all the time. The game is about habits and about percentages . Flipping the switch is the cliche we always use."

The Bolts jumped on Toronto early, scoring the first three goals of the game. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored first, followed by goals by Anthony Cirellil and (with four seconds left in the frist period), Nikita Kucherov.

The Leafs cut the score to 3-2 with a pair of power play goals of their own. But Brayden Point scored. The Bolts followed with goals from Corey Perry and Point again, this one with two seconds left in the period.

"I will never question the guys in that room," Cooper said. "We have a bunch of gamers."

Andrei Vasilevskiy started his 100th playoff game for the Bolts. He stopped 28 of 31 shots.

The Bolts lost both Victor Hedman and Erik Cernak (who received an illegal blow to the head from Michael Bunting). Cooper said he is hopeful that Hedman will be able to play Thursday night.

The Bolts and Leafs go at it again in Montreal on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. The series is scheduled for Saturday and Monday at Amalie Arena.

Cernak left after an illegal hit./TIM WIRT

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