TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning will never be mistaken for Philadelphia’s Stanley Cup-winning Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s.
Auston Matthews and Steven Stamkos dropping their gloves and fighting in a playoff game, though, is highly unusual for a pair of NHL stars better known for offensive prowess than displaying toughness with their fists.
It also speaks to the heightened stakes of the postseason, where the Maple Leafs hold a 2-1 series lead over the Lightning heading into Game 4 (7:30 p.m. ET, TBS) of the best-of-seven, Eastern Conference matchup Monday night.
“Sometimes there’s a time and place for that, so you gotta stickup for yourself,” said Matthews, who before clashing with Stamkos during Toronto’s 4-3 overtime victory in Game 3 couldn’t recall ever exchanging punches with an opponent.
“Fair share of practice scuffles and stuff like that, but not really” a fight in a NHL game, the 60-goal scorer added.
Tempers flared early in Game 3 after Toronto’s Morgan Rielly shoved Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point into the boards as the two battled for a loose puck in the third period. The Maple Leafs defenseman initially was cited for boarding, however the penalty eventually was waived off.
By that time, Matthews and Stamkos were headed to the penalty box for fighting, as were two more stars — Toronto’s Ryan O’Reilly and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov.
“You see one of the best players in the world go head first into the boards, there’s got to be a response,” Stamkos said, noting he would expect the same from the Maple Leafs if one of their best players was in the same position.
“It’s nothing personal. … It’s just playoff hockey,” the Tampa Bay captain, also a 60-goal scorer, added.
This is the second straight year the Maple Leafs have held a 2-1 lead on the Lightning at this point in the first round. Tampa Bay won Game 4 in Tampa and eventually prevailed in seven games last spring, extending Toronto’s long stretch of postseason futility.
The Maple Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since 2004.
DEVILS AT RANGERS, New York leads 2-1 (7 p.m. EDT, ESPN)
The Rangers will look turn things around after an overtime loss in Game 3 at home.
Special teams play has been a factor in each of the first three games and will likely be important again.
The Rangers were 4 for 10 with the advantage over the first two games — a pair of 5-1 wins on the road — but were shut down on five opportunities when the series shifted to Madison Square Garden for Game 3.
“I thought entries and details on coverage, we frustrated them,” Devils coach Lindy Riff said about his team’s penalty kill.
The Devils, 1 for 8, in the first two games, had the lone goal with the man advantage in Game 3.
“Our power play’s been good, we’re not going to score two power-play goals every game,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said. “We had our looks. Our goalie played well, I thought their team played better.”
While the Devils are excited about getting back into the series with a chance to even things up, the Rangers are still confident holding the lead with another game at home.
“We knew this was going to be a challenge,” Trouba said. “It’s never easy winning four games. it’s a long series. … Just come back and play Game 4.”
GOLDEN KNIGHTS AT JETS, Vegas leads 2-1 (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
The Vegas Golden Knights aim for a commanding 3-1 lead in their Western Conference series against the Winnipeg Jets.
While both teams look to recover from the physical toll of Game 3, which ended less than four minutes into the second overtime, Vegas is also focused on finishing strong after squandering a three-goal lead in the third period Saturday.
“You live and you learn,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said, adding the Golden Knights’ vast playoff experience should benefit Vegas preparing for Game 4 and beyond in the best-of-seven series.
“They have guys who have played in the playoffs, too,” Pietrangelo added. “And obviously we have guys who have gone deep. (Experience) definitely plays a part in it.”
Rebounding will not be easy for the Jets, who will without Josh Morrisey for the remainder of the series. The All-Star defenseman collided knee-on-knee with Golden Knights defenseman Zach Whitecloud early in Game 3 and has a lower body injury.
AVALANCHE AT KRAKEN, Colorado leads 2-1 (10 p.m. ET, TBS)
Now that the hoopla surrounding the first home playoff game in Kraken history is out of the way, the question turns to whether Seattle can rebound and even the series after Colorado has been the better team most of the past two games.
It would help Seattle if its top scorers from the regular season can get going.
Jared McCann scored 40 goals in the regular season but has barely had looks at net. Vince Dunn had a career season with 64 points, but has yet to pick up a point through three games. Of Seattle’s top eight points scorers from the regular season, only Jaden Schwartz and Matty Beniers have scored goals for the Kraken, both coming in Game 3.
“I feel like as forwards we’ve got to do a better job of kind of boxing them out and getting their (defense) on our back and making plays when we have the puck,” McCann said. “I feel like (Game 3) our line took a good step in the right direction.”
The Avalanche seemed to have all their stars contributing in the Game 3 win, whether it was Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar or Mikko Rantanen. All three had multi-point games.
A win in Game 4 would set up the Avalanche to potentially close out the Kraken at home Wednesday and get some rest before a second-round series against either Dallas or Minnesota.
AP Sports Writers Vinay Cherwoo and Tim Booth contributed to this report.
Fred Goodall, The Associated Press