(Photo Via NHL.com)
By Jospeh Henry
Hockey is a 60-minute game. That is a pretty mundane fact about the sport, but an important one.
The Lightning didn't bring their best until about 30 minutes into Friday night's game three, and it was far too little, far too late.
Toronto defeated Tampa Bay 5-2 behind an exceptional performance from its starting goaltender Jack Campbell. He made 32 saves on 34 shots faced, a .941 save percentage. The Maple Leafs now hold control of the first-round series, 2-1.
The opening period was a one-sided affair, to say the least.
Reminiscent of game one, Toronto controlled the style of play and took advantage of even the smallest Tampa Bay mistakes. This started early as Lightning left wing Pat Maroon was sent off for the night's first penalty, a delay of game.
The Maple Leafs drew blood with just seconds remaining on their power play. A drive from the point by Toronto center Auston Matthews deflected off the skate of Lightning defenseman Victor Headman. The wild puck was contained by Maple Leaf's right-wing Mitchell Maner, who threaded a pass through the crease to defenseman Morgan Riley.
As he fell to the ice, Riley got just enough on his shot to beat Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Toronto claimed the lead and stifled the Amalie Arena crowd in just under five minutes.
The Bolts were soon given a prime opportunity to retaliate with their first power play of the night.
Tampa Bay left wing Alex Kilorn drew the high stick call. The Lightning never got anything established over the two-minute advantage, and when Toronto defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin exited the penalty box, an odd-man rush began.
Three on one, the Maple Leafs raced towards Vasilevsky. Toronto center Colin Blackwell buried the ensuing shot, doubling the lead. Tampa Bay was firmly on its heels, a blowout on the verge of taking form.
The Lightning escaped to the first intermission with just the two-goal deficit. Beyond some nifty puck work from center Brayden Point late in the period, Tampa Bay barely had anything close to a scoring chance.
More mistakes haunted the Bolts in the second period.
A neutral ice turnover transitioned into the Maple Leaf's third goal of the night. Toronto center David Kampf stole a pass and took it the distance unassisted. The break to the dressing rooms didn't cause any missteps for the visiting team.
Tampa Bay finally got something to go its way at the 11:03 mark of the second period.
Puck movement was finally clicking during a power play, and after a swing around the ice, the rubber eventually hit the tape of Lightning center Ross Colton. The Robbinsville, New Jersey, native sniped in his first goal of the 2022 playoffs to get the Bolts on the board.
An ensuing penalty kill kept the momentum in Tampa Bay's favor. Head coach Jon Cooper shuffled his top line for a shift, moving Point up to the top unit alongside captain Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.
Chances kept coming for the Lightning, but they needed to start cashing in.
The energy was high to begin the final period. Tampa Bay needed two goals to knot the score. Left-wing Ondrej Palat delivered just what the doctor ordered about six minutes into the period. His 38th career playoff goal cut the Maple Leafs' lead to just one.
The door was barely cracked open before the shot, but now it was open.
A power play and multiple opportunities with a sixth attacker were not enough for the Lightning to burst through that door. Two empty-net goals from Toronto right-wing Ilya Mikheyev sealed the win for the Maple Leafs.
Considering it was the first home game of the 2022 playoffs, this performance was very disappointing. The third period does give hope that Tampa Bay will be able to rebound and tie the series at two, but a complete game is needed. The Lightning didn't win back-to-back Stanley Cups with half effort, they were bringing their best every night.
My stars of the game:
First: Toronto Goaltender Jack Campbell, 32 saves and a .941 percentage.
Second: Toronto Left-Wing Pierre Engvall, three assists and three hits
Third: Tampa Bay Left-Wing Ondrej Palat, one goal, and one assist
The Bolts will look to even things back up in game four Sunday night. Game time inside Amalie Arena is set for 7 p.m.
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