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Lightning top Leafs; Matthews scores No. 63

TORONTO – Andrei Vasilevskiy made 28 saves as the Tampa Bay Lightning topped Toronto 4-1 on Wednesday despite Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews adding to his NHL lead with the sniper’s 63rd goal of the season.

Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Brayden Point and Nick Paul scored for Tampa (42-26-7).

Nikita Kucherov, who entered the night tied with Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon for the league lead with 127 points, added two assists.

Brandon Hagel also set up two goals for the Lightning, who moved within four points of the Leafs for third in the Atlantic Division.

The teams each have seven games remaining on the schedule — including April 17 in Tampa in the regular-season finale for both clubs.

Joseph Woll stopped 22 shots for Toronto (43-23-9), which saw a three-game winning streak snapped on a night it could have secured a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs for an eighth straight campaign with a single point.

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The Leafs remain four points back of the Florida Panthers for second in the division with a game in hand.

Toronto defenceman Morgan Rielly returned to the lineup after missing four games with an upper-body injury. Leafs winger Mitch Marner (high ankle sprain) sat out a 12th straight contest, but could suit up this weekend.

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The Lightning, who fell 4-2 to the Detroit Red Wings at home on Monday to snap a nine-game point streak (8-0-1), have been minus star defenceman Mikhail Sergachev (broken leg) since December. He also missed 17 games a lower-body injury in the fall.

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Sitting comfortably in the Eastern Conference’s top wild-card spot, the Lightning took a 1-0 lead on a delayed penalty at 10:03 of the opening period when Hedman scored his 13th goal of the season through a screen — the third time in four starts Woll has allowed the first shot he’s faced to hit the back of Toronto’s net.

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Matthews responded with exactly a minute left before the intermission when he blasted his 63rd on a one-timer off a Rielly setup just three seconds into a power play.

The 26-year-old is on pace for 69 goals, but is eyeing 70 — a number not reached in the NHL since Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny both bagged 76 in 1992-93.

Point put the visitors up 2-1 at 2:54 of the second when he took advantage of a breakdown in the Leafs’ defensive zone to pot his 43rd.

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Vasilevskiy was at full stretch later in the period to deny Matthews of his 64th before Stamkos moved in on a 2-on-1 and buried his 32nd five-hole on Woll.

Toronto, which downed Tampa in the first round of last spring’s playoffs for its first series victory since 2004, pressed as the period went on, but Vasilevskiy denied John Tavares, Bobby McMann and Tyler Bertuzzi with terrific stops.

Woll’s best save of the night came at the other end off Point’s stick to keep the Leafs down two through 40 minutes.

Looking to spark his team, Leafs enforcer Ryan Reaves dropped the gloves with Tampa Bay forward Tanner Jeannot three minutes into the third in a spirited bout.

Woll kept Toronto in the fight moments later when he stoned Kucherov on a breakaway, but Paul put things to bed with 5:41 left in regulation when he ripped his 20th upstairs.

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CHASING 70

Stamkos scored 60 goals in 2011-12 and was asked about what it feels like to be in a zone like Matthews.

“A supreme confidence when you have the puck, especially in certain areas,” said the 34-year-old Lightning captain. “A feeling that you wish you could bottle and have every night.”

EDDY ON ICE

Leafs defenceman Joel Edmundson (undisclosed injury), who last played March 24, took part in Wednesday’s optional morning skate.

Fellow blueliner Timothy Liljegren (upper body) and forward Calle Jarnkrok (hand) also remain sidelined.

UP NEXT

Tampa: Visits the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.

Toronto: Visits the Canadiens on Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2024.

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&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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