KOSHAN: Leafs’ third quarter valiant effort not enough, drops in Game 7 for Lightning

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There’s no shame in losing to the two-time Stanley Cup champion.

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For the Maple Leafs, however, the pain that hit Saturday night hard at Scotiabank Arena will long linger.

The Leafs didn’t take a turn for granted and left it all on the ice as the saying goes, but it wasn’t enough to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 in a 2-1 loss.

In the end, the Lightning’s experiences of winning back-to-back Cups were greater than the first-round losses the Leafs have suffered over the past five years. It’s been six years in a row since the Leafs have advanced to the second round.

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While Tampa needed goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to make great saves at times, Lightning didn’t falter after losing 3-2 in the series, winning the last two games.

The Leafs had 17 shots on Vasilevskiy in the third period and didn’t score any of them. It won’t go away for a while, either.

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“It’s an inch game,” said Auston Matthews. “It’s really frustrating, very disappointing. Every guy there competed and gave his all. Ultimately, they made one more move than we did.

“It’s the two-time World Cup champion and it’s a team that’s been through a lot. They went through a lot of heartbreak and rose to the top two years in a row. We are right there.”

This was Tampa coach Jon Cooper in the morning: “We’re not surprised how good they are. They’ve been knocking on the door for so long. I think they’ve grown as a group, I think their stars are stars. They have a really good team game and the coach does an amazing job preparing them. The Leafs have an incredible team.” … We didn’t imagine that feeling would have changed much after the game, and Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe made this observation: “We got a lot of respect in that (handshake) line from your team, which was nice to see. It was a very different tone of respect on the other side than what we experienced previously. We’re earning respect in the league, but we’re not in the respect game. We are in the winning game and we have to find a way to do that.” … Already giving the Leafs Nation nightmares, Nick Paul almost got worse when he collided with Jack Campbell four minutes into the third. Campbell got up favoring the left leg, but after a few anxious moments, stayed in the game… The Leafs had six shots on goal while Ondrej Palat served a minor hook, which came at 6:19 of the third, but power number 1 playing in the regular season failed to get the puck past Vasilevskiy… John Tavares scored one of his most beautiful goals in recent memory at 8:32 of the second, as he circled around the net, and a confusion of players, to get the puck out by Vasilevskiy. However, instead of the game being tied at 1-1, the goal was not allowed as Justin Holl was called up for interference with Anthony Cirelli. As difficult as the sequel might have been for the Leafs to swallow, the call to Holl couldn’t be avoided. He threw a pick at Cirelli, and if not for that, Tavares might not have escaped Cirelli’s check. “I didn’t really see it,” Tavares said. “I saw it quickly at the bank. It’s hard for me to comment. (Holl) told me he’s just trying to take his own space. One of those that can probably go anyway.” … The Leafs didn’t just kill the penalty, they didn’t let it affect their wish. At 1:25 PM, Morgan Rielly caught a Matthews pass and hit Vasilevskiy to tie the tie the Leafs thought they had five minutes earlier… Paul scored his second of the game at 4:32 PM off TJ Brodie’s second best one-on-one and defeated Campbell to the other side. “This is where heroes are made,” veteran Corey Perry said of the Game 7s in general. “May not be the big guy. It could be someone you’ve never heard of doing something that takes us to the next level.” We’ve heard of Paul, of course, but like Perry said, it wasn’t the big guy who did it for Tampa… Unlike last year when the Leafs lost Game 7 against the Montreal Canadiens, and in the 2020 bubble, when the Leafs lost Game 7 to the Montreal Canadiens. Leafs lost a deciding game 5 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, there was no apprehension on Toronto’s part to start the game… The Leafs were on point from the initial showdown, taking charge in the early innings. Pierre Engvall and Marner had early chances… Brayden Point was in clear pain as he limped straight into the locker room at 17:11 of the first half after landing awkwardly on the side boards. Point was favoring his right leg and while it didn’t look good for the Tampa forward, he came back for the second period. Point was on the ice for one inning and slammed his stick on the ice in frustration as he walked back to the bench. He didn’t play again, but he stayed on the bench until the end of the game… Lightning entered the board at 18:24 of the first period, when Paul scored on a Ross Colton rebound.

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