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Tavares scores hat trick, Leafs thump Lightning 7-2 in emphatic Game 2 response

TORONTO — John Tavares registered his first playoff hat trick as the Toronto Maple Leafs responded in impressive fashion off a disastrous Game 1 with an emphatic 7-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday to even their first-round playoff series 1-1.

Mitch Marner scored twice and set up another, while William Nylander, with a goal and an assist, and Zach Aston-Reese provided the rest of the offence for Toronto.

Morgan Rielly tied a franchise record with four assists. Auston Matthews added two of his own for the Leafs, whose stars stepped up in a big way in a big moment.

Pulled in Tuesday’s ugly 7-3 loss, Ilya Samsonov made 20 saves for Toronto.

Ian Cole and Corey Perry replied for Tampa, which was minus injured top-4 defencemen Victor Hedman and Erik Cernak.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has played every second of Lightning post-season action since 2020, allowed seven goals on 37 shots. 

Games 3 and 4 of the best-of-seven series go Saturday and Monday in Florida.

Facing a 0-2 deficit against an opponent that’s a perfect 10-0 all-time when winning the first two games of a series, Toronto scored 47 seconds into the opening period on a power play to ignite a pulsating Scotiabank Arena when Marner beat Vasilevskiy with a slapshot on the first shot.

After the Leafs survived two Lightning power plays — Tampa scored four times on the man advantage in Game 1 — thanks to Samsonov and some desperate shot blocks, Tavares made it 2-0 at 12:45 when he took a pass from Rielly and fired through a screen on his team’s fourth effort on target.

The home side then went up by three — the deficit they faced Tuesday at the end of the first — on a delayed penalty when Nylander ripped his second of the series at 15:08.

Booed off the ice at every buzzer Tuesday, the Leafs received a deafening ovation as they headed to the locker room from their towel-waving faithful.

Toronto, which lost to Tampa in a tight first-round series last spring and hasn’t advanced in the post-season since 2004, continued to push in the second with a couple of terrific shifts.

But the Lightning, who won the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021 before making last year’s final, responded at 8:58 of the second when Cole scored off the rush to make it 3-1.

The Leafs started to wobble a little, but Tavares buried his second of the night at 13:14 to settle any nerves on the bench or in the stands.

Toronto’s fourth line got in on the action when Aston-Reese banged home a loose puck at 15:52 before Marner added his second on a shot that glanced off a Lightning player in front of Vasilevskiy with 1:58 left in the period as fans ironically chanted the 2019 Vézina Trophy winner’s name.

Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn and Tampa forward Tanner Jeannot dropped the gloves in a spirited third period after Toronto’s Mark Giordano and Zach Bogosian also tangled in the first. 

Perry, who had a goal and two assists Tuesday, added his second of the series for the Lightning with 7:22 left.

The winger then dropped the gloves with Justin Holl before both got an early shower.

Tavares completed his hat trick — the 12th of his career — with under five minutes to play on a man advantage.

Both teams were minus key pieces Thursday. 

Hedman sat out with an undisclosed injury suffered in Game 1, while Cernak didn’t dress after taking an illegal check to the head from Michael Bunting in the opener. The gritty Toronto winger was suspended three games.

Tampa centre Michael Eyssimont, meanwhile, also didn’t suit up after taking a huge hit Tuesday from Leafs blue-liner Jake McCabe. 

The Lightning did get some positive injury news with Jeannot’s return from a leg injury suffered earlier this month. 

Toronto rookie Matthew Knies made his playoff debut in place of Bunting.


Rielly’s four assists tied the franchise record in a playoff game, joining Doug Gilmour (1994), Darryl Sittler (1977) and Ian Turnbull (1976).

His three assists in the first marked the only time in team history a Toronto blue-liner has registered a trio of points in a post-season period.


The Leafs last won a series exactly 19 years ago Thursday when they defeated the Ottawa Senators in seven games — a stretch of 6,939 days.


Marner’s goal 47 seconds into the first was the quickest by a Leafs player in the post-season since Dan Daoust (31 seconds) in 1987. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2023.


Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter. 

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press