Lightning beat Maple Leafs to avoid elimination

Lightning beat Maple Leafs to avoid elimination

TORONTO -- Teams like to talk about taking it one game at a time.

The Tampa Bay Lightning reheated that old chestnut and refined it as they try to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive.

They talk about taking it one period at a time, one shift at a time.

That was the essence of what Lightning coach Jon Cooper told his players before they went out to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 on Thursday night led by two goals by Brayden Point and three assists by Victor Hedman.

The Lightning not only staved off elimination from playoff contention but prevented the Maple Leafs from clinching their first playoff spot in four seasons.

The Lightning must win their two remaining games to have a chance to qualify for the playoffs. The Maple Leafs must win at least win one of their two remaining games to clinch a postseason berth.

“You’re just keeping it kind of in your hands,” Cooper said. “You can’t sit here and look at (what other teams) are doing, you just look at what you’re doing. If you start worrying about other stuff it’ll just affect your mindset. It’s kind of what got us to this point so far.”

The Lightning play the Montreal Canadiens on Friday. “That’s what we have to put our focus on,” Cooper said.

Nikita Kucherov and Michael Bournival also scored for Tampa Bay (40-30-10). Ondrej Palat added two assists for the Lightning.

“We were on it, we won the battles, the whole team did a great job,” Palat said.

Nazem Kadri scored for the Maple Leafs (39-26-15).

“I thought they were desperate and played a simple, forechecking game,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “They clogged up the neutral zone. We made it harder than it should be, we didn’t play like we normally do and I thought we were slow. I don’t know if we were tight or -- well, we were, but we weren’t in sync and they won all of the battles and all of the races.”

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 26 saves in the Tampa Bay goal.

Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen made 26 stops and kept the Maple Leafs in game when he turned back a couple breakaways.

“We had to win it and we played like it,” Point said. “You can’t look too far ahead, especially in this kind of game. There are so many swings in a game, you have to keep a level head.”

The Lightning had a 2-1 lead after two periods. Bournival extended the lead when he scored his second goal of the season from the slot at 2:00 of the third.

Point scored his second goal of the game and 16th of the season at 14:11 of the third period on a shot from the high slot.

The teams were playing with four skaters aside when the goal was scored with Kucherov off for cross checking and Tyler Bozak off for roughing.

“It’s just going to get harder and harder,” Bozak said. “Especially if you get in (the playoffs), it’s just going to get harder and harder. We’ve got to be prepared for games like that, it’s how it’s going to be for our last two games for sure.”

Point shot Tampa Bay into a 1-0 lead at 7:34 of the second period with his first goal of the game, a power-play effort. He fired the puck home from the slot on a feed from Palat. Toronto’s Roman Polak was sitting out for an interference penalty.

The Maple Leafs tied the game at 9:42 of the second on Kadri’s 32nd goal of the season on a shot from the right circle after a cross-ice pass from Matt Hunwick.

The Lightning regained the lead at 11:50 of the second on the 39th goal of the season by Kucherov, who took a pass from Hedman, skated over the blue line, cut to his left and beat Andersen from the top of the circle.

“At this point all we can do is put a little pressure on them,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. “We have to go out and so the same thing (Friday) or this one is a wasted one.”

NOTES: The Lightning recalled LW Michael Bournival and C Cory Conacher from the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League on Wednesday and both played Thursday. ... Maple Leafs C Brian Boyle (upper-body injury) returned to the lineup after leaving Tuesday’s loss to the Washington Capitals in the first period. ... Lightning C Tyler Johnson (lower-body injury) was a game-time decision Thursday and did not dress. ... The Maple Leafs are home to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.

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