The Toronto Maple Leafs already know how difficult it is to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in back-to-back Stanley Cup playoff games.
They will try to accomplish that rare feat when they visit the Lightning in Game 4 of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series on Sunday night.
The Lightning are 16-0 in games following a playoff loss over the past three postseasons, a big reason why they’ve won the past two Stanley Cup titles.
Tampa Bay dropped the opener of the best-of-seven series 5-0 at Toronto on Monday, but came back with a 5-3 win in Game 2 on Wednesday.
The Maple Leafs moved back ahead 2-1 in the series with a 5-2 victory in Game 3 on Friday night at Tampa.
“We pushed, but sitting up here now, we’re still down 2-1,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “We can sit here and pat ourselves on the back all night long and say, ‘Hey, great job pushing at the end,’ (but) it’s still … you’re down 2-1.”
The Lightning will try to make fewer visits to the penalty box in Game 4. Toronto had five power plays in Game 3, all in the first 32 minutes, and scored on the first to take a lead it never surrendered.
“We’re in the box a lot so that kills the flow of the game, kills some momentum,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “You can’t take five penalties in the first half of the game, it’s taxing. Give our penalty killers a ton of credit, give our goaltender a ton of credit. We fought back hard, but it’s tough to go in a 3-0 hole and expect to come back.”
The victory on Friday moved the Maple Leafs two wins away from winning their first playoff series since 2004.
“It is a big step,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We are trying to be a team that wins these games and finds a way to win them. Sometimes, they are not perfect or the way you’d like it to be, but you need to find a way to keep it out and battle.”
One of the keys for the Maple Leafs has been the play of goalie Jack Campbell, who has stopped 85 of 92 shots in the series for a .924 save percentage, better than his .914 mark during the regular season.
Playing in Tampa has been a challenge, however.
“It’s a tough rink,” Campbell said. “Their fans are into it and their team is always buzzing. We did a great job of having a strong start (Friday), especially after Game 2. The sacrifices every single guy was making in front of me (Friday) night, blocking shots, getting into lanes, and making it tough to get things to the net, was huge.”
The Lightning can help themselves by putting more pressure on Campbell early in the game and getting some shots past him.
Tampa Bay scored with three seconds left in the first period of Game 2, but otherwise does not have a first-period goal in the series. That’s something the Lightning need to correct if they hope to avoid the dreaded back-to-back playoff losses.
“We can’t wait for them to go up by a couple goals for us to kind of flip the switch,” Lightning center Ross Colton said. “We have to come to the rink with a little bit more urgency.”
–Field Level Media