2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Lightning beat Maple Leafs in Game 7, still seeking third straight championship

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USATSI

Over the past two seasons, the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has represented a markedly divergent path for the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was just a speed bump en route to the Stanley Cup for Tampa Bay, but a complete stop for Toronto, and the trend continued Saturday.

In Game 7 of their first-round playoff series, the Lightning kept their hopes of a third straight Stanley Cup alive with a 2-1 victory over the Maple Leafs in Toronto. The Lightning will face the top-seeded Florida Panthers in the second round.

Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly tied the game 1-1 with a goal 1:25 into the second period, energizing a Scotiabank Arena crowd that hadn’t seen a first-round win since 2004. But the Lightning left winger Nick Paul — who opened the scoring late in the first period — responded three minutes later with another goal to make it 2-1, a score that held until the final blow of whistle.

“He’s a player, that’s probably the best way to describe him,” Lightning center Ross Colton said. said of Paul after the game. “He lives for those big moments. We acquired him for a reason and you can see him today.”

Toronto shot 31 to Tampa Bay’s 25, but Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy erased that advantage with a stellar 24-save performance. Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell made 29 saves in a losing effort.

It was an agonizing loss for Toronto, a team that has now lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six consecutive seasons. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has survived a tough test and will soon face another in the President’s Trophy-winning Panthers.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos thinks his team is ready.

“We fell back on the standard set for this group and that is to do whatever it takes to win,” Stamkos said. “It doesn’t matter who does it, when, why. It’s just winning. It’s definitely an infectious feeling and attitude. Very proud of this group, but it’s just one.”

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