Maple Leafs Advance to Second Round: Await either Bruins or Panthers
What a thrilling night of playoff hockey we have just witnessed here at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay! The Toronto Maple Leafs have secured a 2-1 victory in overtime against the Lightning, clinching their first playoff series win since 2004.
John Tavares, the hero of the night, scored the game-winning goal at 4:36 of overtime. Tavares skated from behind the net to the left circle and fired a shot that hit Lightning defenseman Darren Raddysh’s skate and trickled past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“I got the puck up high and interchanged with [Mitchell Marner] and I thought most of the coverage would go to him,” Tavares said. “But they read it well and I just kept the puck in. … With the space that I had and knowing [Morgan Rielly] went to the net, I said let’s throw it there and see what happens.”
Auston Matthews also found the back of the net and Ilya Samsonov made 31 crucial saves, including a breakaway chance by Michael Eyssimont in overtime. “I’m so excited, this is a big deal for us,” Samsonov said. “It was a good battle. Everybody did a great job … the PK … it doesn’t matter how you win, in overtime or whatever, just get four wins.”
Toronto, the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic Division, took all three games at Amalie Arena in overtime and will now face the winner of the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers series. “It’s been a long time coming, a long time coming for a lot of players in our room, long time coming for myself, long time coming for Leafs Nation … it’s a big deal,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “You see that puck find its way in the net and it’s just an incredible moment. Playoff hockey is incredible. This whole night was incredible.”
Steven Stamkos scored the lone goal for the Lightning, the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic, who were the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions. Vasilevskiy made 20 saves in the losing effort.
The Lightning had won 11 of their past 12 playoff series, winning the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021 before losing in the Cup final to the Colorado Avalanche last season. “This team hasn’t lost a series in the Eastern Conference since 2019, it’s 2023,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “We’re not used to this feeling. I don’t know, I can’t think of the word. It just doesn’t feel good.”
“There’s no shame in the effort that we put in, maybe the execution at times wasn’t great,” Stamkos said. “No one should go home feeling like we didn’t leave it on the ice. I thought we played better 5-on-5 hockey than we did last year. Maybe we got some bounces last year. That’s a good hockey team over there. It [stinks] when it doesn’t go your way.”
Tampa Bay has now lost five straight playoff games at home and is 1-10 in their past 11 playoff overtime games. Despite the loss, Coach Cooper praised his team’s effort and said there’s no shame in their performance. “At some point, you’re not going to get the break, that’s just the way it is,” Cooper said. “And for [Toronto], that has struggled in the playoffs. At some point they were going to get a break. It just [stinks] that it was in a series against us.”