Michael Eyssimont had a goal and an assist as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 on Thursday to force Game 6 in their first-round playoff series.
Anthony Cirelli, with a goal and an assist, Nick Paul and Alex Killorn, into an empty net, also scored for Tampa. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 28 saves.
Morgan Rielly and Auston Matthews replied for Toronto, which got 34 stops from Ilya Samsonov. John Tavares had two assists.
The Leafs still lead the best-of-seven series 3-2.
Game 6 goes Saturday in Tampa. Game 7, if necessary, would be Monday back at Scotiabank Arena.
Toronto, which has failed to advance in the post-season since 2004 and was eliminated by the Lightning in seven games in last spring’s first round, is now 0-10 since 2018 with a chance to eliminate a post-season opponent.
Tied 1-1 after a spirited first period, the Lightning pushed ahead at 4:24 of the second when Eyssimont beat Samsonov through the pads from a tough angle for his first goal of the series.
Tampa nearly went up two off the rush when Brayden Point chimed a shot off the post that stayed out before Vasilevskiy flailed his arms at the other end on a scramble to keep a mid-air puck out of the Lightning net.
The period ended in controversy when Pat Maroon crushed Toronto defenceman Mark Giordano from behind into the boards. The initial play went uncalled, but the bruising Tampa winger was assessed a roughing penalty for the ensuing scrum.
Giordano rejoined his teammates on the bench shortly after the restart after getting looked at by the trainer.
The Leafs had a couple chances on the ensuing power play, but Vasilevskiy was there at every turn before denying Mitch Marner on a breakaway.
Samsonov then kept his team in it with a big glove stop on Steven Stamkos.
But Paul made it 3-1 at 11:54 of the third with his first after the Leafs goaltender got bumped by teammate David Kampf.
The home side pulled within one with 3:34 left in regulation when Matthews banged home a loose puck for his fourth, and third in the last two games, with Samsonov on the bench for an extra attacker.
The Leafs continued to press desperately looking for the tie and send the teams to a third straight overtime before Killorn sealed it with five seconds left.
Toronto, which has lost six straight series since 2017, opened the scoring at 4:46 of the first when Rielly — the longest-serving Leaf — scored his third of the series from the slot after Tavares beat three Lightning players to the puck to ignite the towel-waving crowd inside a frothing Scotiabank Arena.
Coming off Stanley Cup triumphs in 2020 and 2021 before falling in last year’s final to the Colorado Avalanche, and looking to keep their season alive, the Lightning responded just 26 seconds later when Cirelli scored his third off a scramble.
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Vasilevskiy, who had allowed 16 goals in three games coming into Thursday, looked more like his Vezina Trophy-winning self on a Toronto man advantage later in the period with a couple of massive stops.
Fans lined up for hours just to get a spot for the viewing party outside the rink at Maple Leaf Square and the chance to be close to their team as it looked to move onto the second round for the first time in nearly two decades.
Ticket resale websites showed seats priced hundreds — and even thousands of dollars — over face value in the leadup to the opening faceoff.
Tampa beat Toronto 7-3 in Game 1, but lost Erik Cernak when he took an illegal check to the head from Leafs winger Michael Bunting that has kept the minute-crunching defenceman sidelined.
Toronto picked up a 7-2 victory two nights later as Bunting served the first of a three-game suspension before securing consecutive overtime wins in Tampa, including a 5-4 decision Monday after trailing 4-1 midway through the third period to build a 3-1 series lead that now sits at a much-less-comfortable 3-2.
The Lightning forward suited up for the first time since getting knocked out of Game 1 on a hard hit by Leafs defenceman Jake McCabe. Eyssimont’s inclusion meant Tanner Jeannot watched from the press box.
The gritty Toronto native was eligible to return to the lineup after serving his three-game ban, but Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe elected to go with the same lineup for the fourth straight game. Bunting registered 23 goals and 49 points in the regular season.
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