Resilient Lightning answer doubters with Game 5 win over Maple Leafs

·2 min read

TORONTO — There were many questions swirling around the Tampa Bay Lightning after they coughed up back-to-back comeback victories to the Toronto Maple Leafs in their first-round playoff series.

Could they hold on to an early lead? Were they worn out after three consecutive Stanley Cup final appearances? Could goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy track long-range shots?

"Think that was an answer tonight," said forward Nick Paul, who scored the winner in Tampa Bay's 4-2 victory over the Maple Leafs on Thursday to force a Game 6 back in Florida. "We've been up the last couple of games and let it slip.

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"We knew we were coming to Toronto, we knew we were winning this and we're taking it back home."

Forward Pat Maroon said that the Lightning came out on top in their must-win Game 5 because no one in their lineup let up at any point in the game, even when Toronto superstar Auston Matthews scored a late goal to cut Tampa's lead to a goal.

"We were sticking with our structure tonight," said Maroon. "I thought we did a good job with just rolling the lines over, everyone doing their job tonight.

"Everyone's sticking to it. Everyone was on their toes tonight. Everyone was on it tonight."

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said that his team has learned from its collapses against Toronto in Games 3 and 4. He insisted a full 60-minute effort would be necessary in Game 6 and a potential Game 7 if Tampa is to come back from its 3-2 series deficit.

"We know how to have success against them, maybe as marginal as it is, but you have to do it the entire game," said Cooper, noting that Game 4 was a particularly galling loss. "We proved in Game 4 when you take a six-minute break it's not going to work against these guys."

Detroit Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde has been an analyst for Sportsnet during the post-season and said on Monday's telecast of the Lightning-Leafs series that Tampa Bay’s coaching staff had to restructure its defensive coverage to compensate for Vasilevskiy’s weakness in tracking shots from long-range.

Cooper made it clear after Thursday's victory that Vasilevskiy — who had 28 saves to earn the Game 5 win — has his full confidence.

"I think who really dug his heels in tonight was the goalie," said Cooper. "His name has come up a lot for various reasons over the last couple days and I think he think he proved he can handle the high shots."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2023.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press