The Maple Leafs took advantage of a shaky Andrei Vasilevskiy performance in the Tampa Bay goal to edge the NHL-leading Lightning 4-3 at Air Canada Centre on Monday night.
Toronto’s abundance of speed was evident yet again as William Nylander scored twice and Auston Matthews registered three assists.
Nylander scored the only goal of the first period at 11:55 after Matthews won a draw in the offensive zone. It was the first goal the Leafs had scored against Vasilevskiy in 102 minutes, 13 seconds of playing time, including a 2-0 shutout in Toronto on January 2.
In the second period, Nylander accepted a stretch pass from Matthews and converted on a partial breakaway, beating Vasilevskiy between the pads to extend Toronto’s lead by a pair of goals. Jake Gardiner found the net just past the midway mark of regulation to seemingly put the Leafs in the driver’s seat.
But the Lightning showed why they are the atop the NHL standings, and rallied for a comeback. Alex Killorn jammed home a rebound of a Brayden Point shot to get his team on the scoreboard and foil Frederik Andersen’s shutout bid.
The third period opened disastrously for the Leafs. Nikita Kucherov and Yanni Gourde scored 20 seconds apart – the latter goal coming at the 1:18 mark – to tie the score in front of 19,112 stunned onlookers.
Toronto fans breathed a sigh of relief when James van Riemsdyk managed to squeeze the puck between Vasilevskiy’s pad and the goal post to notch the eventual game-winning goal.
Nazem Kadri came within a hairline of giving the Leafs some insurance, ringing a puck off the crossbar moments later. In the final minute of the third period, Andersen held the fort, making some challenging stops en route to a 31-save victory.
“I liked the fact that we were able to regroup ourselves and get a win. We’ve just got to keep our foot on the gas and keep playing well and not cheat,” coach Mike Babcock said.
The Leafs will attempt to complete a sweep their five game homestand when they host Columbus on Wednesday.