Well, Lightning fans, how was that for some high drama? It was a tense contest, one that featured several significant momentum swings and multiple lead changes. In overtime, Brayden Point’s rebound goal extended the Lightning’s season – and the series. Now the teams head back to Toronto for a winner-take-all Game Seven on Saturday.
In terms of which team carried play, the pendulum swung back and forth from one period to the next. The Lightning had an edge in the first. The Leafs controlled the second. The Lightning pushed back in the third. And in that first overtime, before Point’s deciding goal, Toronto had been the more dangerous team.
The opening period was a tight-checking frame. The Lightning did well to take away time and space from the Leafs. They repeatedly ended plays in the d-zone and cleanly moved pucks out. Toronto also defended well, but the Lightning had more success at getting pucks to the net. Through the first five games in the series, Jack Campbell had limited potential rebound opportunities by swallowing up initial shots. But in the first period of Game Six, the Lightning’s shot attempts, often through screens, did yield rebounds. The Leafs boxed out well in front of Campbell, however, and the Lightning forwards couldn’t get their sticks on those loose pucks.
Eventually, the Lightning broke through. With the teams skating four-on-four, Alexander Kerfoot attempted a drop pass from the neutral zone to TJ Brodie. But Brodie moved up ice as the pass was made, out of the path of the puck. Ondrej Palat jumped on the loose puck and countered on a partial breakaway. He finished a shot from the right circle that hit off the top of Campbell’s right pad and deflected into the top of the net.
Before the period ended, the Lightning generated a good look off another shot-save-rebound sequence. Campbell stopped Mikhail Sergachev’s point shot, but didn’t control the rebound. Palat was able to grab it for a second shot and then he was tripped. So the Lightning carried a power play chance into the start of the second.
As they have done at points in the series, the Maple Leafs used a strong penalty kill as a springboard for a momentum surge. During the early stages of the middle period, the Leafs applied up ice pressure while finishing off that penalty kill. Once back at five-on-five, they got their game revved up. Unlike the first period, the Lightning weren’t successful at closing off Toronto players. As the period progressed, more and more time was spent in the Tampa Bay defensive zone. The Leafs attacked the Lightning end repeatedly and relentlessly. Toronto received a power play at 9:02 with a chance to tie the game. But instead, the Lightning struck for a shorthanded goal. Anthony Cirelli read and intercepted a neutral zone pass from Ilya Mikheyev and skated into the offensive zone. With Mark Giordano defending, Cirelli made a spin move at the right circle and swept the puck past Campbell on the short side.
With that key goal, the Lightning had built a 2-0 lead and would have liked to have gained momentum. Instead, the Leafs immediately answered. When Cirelli scored, there were only 16 seconds left on the Toronto power play. But the Leafs still managed to generate a dangerous look before the penalty ended. Back at five-on-five, they forced the Lightning to ice the puck. On the ensuing faceoff, Auston Matthews won the draw and tipped in Giordano’s point shot. The Leafs had gotten the goal back, less than a minute after Cirelli’s shorty.
Toronto buzzed for the rest of the period. And the Leafs cashed in for two goals in the final minute. John Tavares jumped off the Toronto bench to join the rush as the puck came into the Tampa Bay end. Jason Spezza dropped him a pass and went to the front of the net. Tavares’ shot from the left circle hit Andrei Vasilevskiy in the blocker and fluttered up into the air. As Spezza looked to swat it in, Vasilevskiy reached back with his glove and knocked the puck into the net at 19:26. The game was tied. But it wouldn’t be for long. The Leafs iced the puck on the next shift, but Tavares won the d-zone face-off and the Leafs transitioned quickly up ice. William Nylander slipped the puck to Tavares in the slot and he snapped it in at 19:52. It was a stunning turnaround.
The Lightning used the second intermission to regroup and they switched momentum in the third. It’s true that the Leafs, up by a goal at the start of the period, weren’t as aggressive at attacking up ice as they had been during the second. So the Lightning enjoyed much more possession time at the start of the third than they had seen in the second. They were still down by one when David Kampf was whistled for high-sticking Cal Foote behind the Toronto net at 8:02. The Leafs won the face-off to begin the penalty kill and got the puck down the ice into the Tampa Bay end. But as Kerfoot battled for a puck with Victor Hedman, he committed another high-stick penalty. The Lightning went on a five-on-three for 1:45 with a golden opportunity to tie the game.
It was the third straight contest in which the Lightning have received a five-on-three. They scored in Game Four and almost tallied one in Game Five. In Game Six, they got the goal they so desperately needed. Standing at the right circle (near the slot), Nikita Kucherov took a pass from Point. With Cirelli screening Campbell, Kucherov zipped a shot through Campbell’s pads, tying the game at 9:20.
With the exception of two isolated (but dangerous) o-zone from the Leafs, the Lightning dominated play for the rest of the period. Buoyed by the Kucherov goal, the Lightning owned nearly all of the possession and kept the Leafs back on their heels. But the Leafs dug in defensively and limited the number of shots that reached Campbell. The Lightning’s best chance to grab the lead came with just over three minutes left in regulation. Nick Paul delivered a cross ice pass to Brandon Hagel at the bottom of the left circle. Campbell was still on the other side of the crease, but Hagel snapped his shot over the net.
Just as the Lightning used the second intermission to recenter themselves, the Leafs took advantage of the intermission between the third period and overtime. Toronto controlled much of the action in OT. They generated two Grade-A opportunities in the opening minutes, but Vasilevskiy stopped chances for Kerfoot and Mikheyev. Through the OT period, the Leafs had a shooting mentality and worked pucks to the net. Vasilevskiy saved the Lightning’s season. Not only did he made the stops Kerfoot and Mikheyev, he dealt with seven other shots that might have won the series for the Leafs. The Toronto pressure was fairly consistent. When the Lightning did have the puck in the offensive zone, their shot attempts often missed the net or were blocked. Up until the winning goal, the Lightning had put only three shots on goal, none especially dangerous.
But in sudden death overtime, it doesn’t matter how many chances a team gets, only which team scores first. And when the Lightning got their opportunity, they made the most of it. Mitch Marner attempted a pass from the Toronto end to Matthews near the red line. Matthews stumbled, however, and Hagel came off the Lightning bench and stepped in front of the pass to intercept it. With fresh legs, Hagel sped down left wing into the offensive zone and got around Marner, creating a three-on-two down low. Hagel fed Alex Killorn in the low slot and Killorn fired a shot to the net. As had been the case earlier in the night, Campbell made the initial save, but couldn’t control the rebound. Point, at the top of the crease, swept the puck back through Campbell’s pads. As it slid towards the goal line, Michael Bunting and Justin Holl attempted to knock it off the goal line. But Holl’s stick hit Bunting’s. As a result, Bunting accidentally directed the puck across the goal line.
With three wins following losses in this series, the Lightning kept alive their three-year postseason streak of wins after losses. But now they must do something they have been unable to accomplish so far in the series – win consecutive games.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1. Brayden Point – Lightning. OT winner, assist.
2. Andrei Vasilevskiy – Lightning. 30 saves.
3. John Tavares – Maple Leafs. Two goals.