If the trend continues, the first goal could be vital Tuesday night when the Tampa Bay Lightning visit the Toronto Maple Leafs for Game 5 of their first-round playoff series.
The team that has scored first has won the first four games of the best-of-seven series that is even at 2-2.
The formula worked for the Lightning on Sunday night in their 7-3 home victory. Steven Stamkos scored 60 seconds into the first period and Tampa Bay led 3-0 before eight minutes had been played.
“The first goal has been important in this series so far,” Stamkos said. “One of our keys was to come out the right way and we got rewarded.”
In Game 3, also at Tampa, the Maple Leafs opened a 3-0 lead in a 5-2 victory. Three of the games have been decided by three goals or more.
“Our start is the way we want to play, and we were a hungry team (Sunday)” said Lightning center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who scored the second goal.
“Now it’s a best-of-three with two in our building,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Whether you lose 2-1, you wash it, we’ll be better next time.”
“This is just one game,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We’re here to win a series.”
In the playoffs, the Lightning are 16-0 following a loss dating to the beginning of the 2020 postseason.
“They came out hot, we were on our heels,” said Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin, who scored in the third period. “We took too many penalties. We have to be more disciplined. We should know that by now. It’s disappointing. We battled hard to be in the position we were in (leading 2-1).”
Toronto had 30 minutes in penalties on Sunday and Tampa Bay had 22. Each team scored one power-play goal.
“I think, if anything, we’ve learned from the mistakes that we’ve made early in this series,” Stamkos said. “Especially after Game 2, winning and not having the best start in Game 3. We’re a veteran group. We’ll lean on our experience here, and we know how critical Game 5 is in a tight series.”
“We’ve just got to find a way to do the next game,” said Lightning left winger Pat Maroon, who scored the third goal Sunday. “We know we can do it. We know what works. We know what’s successful for our team. Playing the right way, and fortunately playing hard and playing the right way works.”
After the Lightning took a 5-0 lead in the second period, Keefe removed goaltender Jack Campbell and replaced him with Erik Kallgren, who did not allow a goal. Both Lightning goals in the third period were into an empty net.
“We’ll learn from it,” Campbell said. “I’ll look in the mirror and be ready for the next one. I’ll enjoy the crowd at home — and stop some pucks. It’s a great series.”
Campbell faced 16 shots and Kallgren 10. Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 22 of 25 shots.
Toronto captain John Tavares earned an assist Sunday and has only two assists in the series.
“I haven’t been able to produce offensively as I’d like,” Tavares said. “But it’s important for me to play well without the puck and not be overly aggressive just because I’m worried about offense. I’d like to generate more and want to be better.”
–Field Level Media
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