TORONTO (AP) — The Tampa Bay Lightning stayed alive in their playoff hunt — and kept the Toronto Maple Leafs from earning a return to the postseason at their expense.
Brayden Point scored two goals and the Lightning beat the Maple Leafs 4-1 on Thursday night. Nikita Kucherov and Michael Bournival also scored for the Lightning, who could have been eliminated with a loss.
“We had to win it and the guys in here obviously knew that,” Point said, “and I think we played like it.”
The Maple Leafs are looking for their first postseason berth in four years. There is only one spot remaining in the Eastern Conference after Ottawa clinched a berth with a 2-1 shootout win at Boston.
Toronto, which would have clinched with a win, needs two points over its final two games — against Pittsburgh and Columbus — to beat out the Lightning and New York Islanders for the last spot.
“We made it way harder than it should be,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “You go over and over a foundation of how to play so in the big moments you do what you do, but we didn’t do that.”
Nazem Kadri scored the only goal for Toronto, with Frederik Andersen surrendering four goals on 30 shots.
“Obviously everyone wants to win and I don’t know if you can say we’re nervous,” Maple Leafs veteran Leo Komarov said, “but maybe we need to be a little bit sharper and just go from there.”
Toronto fans had a scare in late in the first period when rookie Auston Matthews was hit in the offensive zone by rookie Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin. Matthews’ left knee connected with the right knee of Dotchin, and the 19-year-old Maple Leafs star remained down on the ice for a few moments. Matthews went to the bench in obvious discomfort, but quickly returned and generated a scoring chance that slid just wide of Andrei Vasilevskiy, who finished with 26 saves.
The Maple Leafs came up empty on a pair of scoring chances in the first period on consecutive power plays.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit, first of all, to our penalty kill,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We take those back-to-back penalties there, so that’s four straight minutes to a really good power play and they really didn’t give them too much. I thought that was a big boost. It was a springboard for us the rest of the game.”
Point opened the scoring 7:34 into the second period when he found room in the high slot on a power play, beating Andersen for his 15th goal of the season.
Kadri tied the game at 9:42 when he redirected Matt Hunwick’s pass behind Vasilevskiy for his 32nd goal.
Kucherov put the Lightning back in front about two minutes later, wheeling into the slot and then whipping his 39th goal past Andersen.
Tampa nearly scored again late in the period, Andersen snaring Jonathan Drouin’s backhand attempt with his glove. He couldn’t stop Bournival in the opening minutes of the third though, with the fourth liner tapping in Andrej Sustr’s shot from behind the goal for a 3-1 lead.
Point added his second of the night with 5:49 left in the third to seal the win for Tampa.
“You can’t sit here and look at what the Leafs are doing or what the Islanders are doing,” Cooper said. “You just look at what you’re doing.”