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NHL-Maple Leafs oust Lightning for first playoff series win since 2004

Maple Leafs Exorcise Postseason Demons with Overtime Win

By Frank Pingue

After nearly two decades of postseason heartbreak, the Toronto Maple Leafs have finally broken the curse with a thrilling 2-1 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The win secures their spot in the second round of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.

John Tavares scored the series-winning goal when he took the puck from behind the Lightning net, skated in front, and unleashed a shot that went in off Tampa Bay defender Darren Raddysh’s skate.

Breaking the Curse

For the Maple Leafs, this win is a long-awaited relief. The team has been under immense pressure to perform after years of underachieving in the postseason. This victory marks their first playoff series win since 2004 and puts an end to the loud calls for major organizational changes.

“Obviously it’s a bit of a monkey off our back, and we still got plenty of work to do, but this one obviously feels really great,” said Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews.

Toronto’s core trio of Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares have endured their share of playoff heartache, most recently in 2022 when Tampa Bay beat Toronto in a decisive seventh game as the Maple Leafs lost their opening postseason series for a sixth consecutive year.

And while ousting a Lightning team that reached the Stanley Cup Final in each of the previous three seasons has brought this group to unchartered territory, it is also just the first step for a Maple Leafs team with lofty ambitions.

“It’s a little bit of a relief for sure just to be able to get that done,” Marner said. “But got to make sure we’re ready because it just gets harder and harder.”

A Thrilling Game

The best-of-seven series returned to Tampa with the Maple Leafs ahead 3-2, and the visitors were desperate to close things out rather than take their chances in a do-or-die seventh game. Toronto opened the scoring with about six minutes left in the second period when Matthews unleashed a slapshot from the right faceoff circle that beat Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Lightning drew level when captain Steven Stamkos, alone in front of the net, fired home a rebound with just under 16 minutes left in regulation.

The Tavares goal less than five minutes into overtime allowed the entire Maple Leafs organization and their fan base to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

The Maple Leafs will next face the winner of Sunday’s game between the top-seeded Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers.



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