The two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning kept their three-peat hopes alive and the Toronto Maple Leafs suffered another Game 7 disappointment with a 2-1 home loss Saturday night.
Trade deadline acquisition Nick Paul scored twice and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who had given up at least three goals in the first six games of the first-round series, was brilliant, making 30 saves to give the Lightning a ninth consecutive series victory.
But the Lightning also have an injury to worry about as they prepare to face the No. 1 overall seed Florida Panthers in the second round.
Forward Brayden Point limped off the ice in the first period, unable to put weight on his leg after an awkward fall.
Surprisingly, Point came out for the second period. But he went out for one shift and clearly was still laboring. He skated to the bench and stayed there and didn’t get back on the ice for the rest of the game.
If he can’t go at the start of the next series, that would be hard for the Lightning. Point scored the overtime winner in Game 6 and led the Lightning with 14 goals during each of their two Stanley Cup runs.
The Maple Leafs have not won a playoff series since 2004 and this might have been their best shot as they finished with a franchise-record 115 points.
Auston Matthews scored 60 goals this season and Mitch Marner had 97 points. Michael Bunting is a rookie of the year finalist. William Nylander and Alexander Kerfoot had career years. The Maple Leafs beefed up their defense with Mark Giordano and Ilya Lyubushkin before the deadline. Goalie Jack Campbell, who had midseason struggles, came back strong in April after an injury.
The Maple Leafs won 5-0 in Game 1, but the Lightning continued their playoff trend of following a loss with a win (now 17-0). Toronto led by a goal in the third period of Game 6, but Tampa Bay forced overtime on a 5-on-3 power play.
In Game 7, a John Tavares goal was taken away in the second period because of an interference call to Justin Holl. Morgan Rielly finally tied the game, but Paul scored it a little more than three minutes later. Vasilevskiy stopped all 17 third-period shots by Toronto.
“We’re getting sick and tired of feeling like this, so we got to make sure we’re ready for the upcoming season,” Marner said.
Patrice Bergeron says it’s too soon to decide future
Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron took the time to hug teammates as they came off the ice after a 3-2 Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
But if that’s a sign that the pending unrestricted free agent was saying goodbye, it wasn’t, he said.
“It’s always tough when it ends like that, so it was more to share with them and thanking them for battling together every day basically. It stings and it’s not the feeling that you want, but that being said, we did it together,” he told reporters.
Bergeron said it was too early to make a decision about his future.
“It’s too fresh right now,” he said. “It still stings obviously from a hard-fought series and we came up short. Obviously I have to think about it, but I’m not there right now.”
Bergeron won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and has won the Selke Trophy (top defensive forward) four times and was a finalist six other times.
Bruins forward Brad Marchand called Bergeron the backbone of the team.
“We want him to come back, but whatever happens, he’s earned the right to make whatever decision he wants and take the time that he needs,” he said. “I guess time will tell.”
NHL decides against disciplining Flames’ Nikita Zadorov for hit
The Calgary Flames will have hard-hitting defenseman Nikita Zadorov available for Game 7 against the Dallas Stars on Sunday after NHL Player Safety cleared him over his hit on Luke Glendening.
“While there was significant head contact on this play, Zadorov took a proper angle of approach, did not extend outward or upward, and hit through Glendening’s core,” the department said after holding a hearing. “Therefore, under Rule 48.1 (i), the head contact was determined to be unavoidable.”
Zadorov has two assists, 18 hits and 20 penalty minutes in the playoffs.