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Rielly’s OT winner gives Maple Leafs series lead over Lightning

Morgan Rielly has experienced a lot of tough moments as the longest-serving member of the Maple Leafs.

The veteran defenceman — and his Toronto teammates — showed plenty of fight and did just enough on a night where they were largely second best.

Rielly scored at 19:15 of overtime and Ilya Samsonov made 36 saves as Toronto came back from a goal down late in the third period Saturday to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 and take a 2-1 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Drafted by the Leafs fifth overall at the 2012 NHL draft, Rielly fired a shot from the side boards that floated in past the right ear of Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevsky after Ryan O’Reilly won an offensive zone faceoff.

“A leader for us,” Leafs captain John Tavares said of Rielly. “Competes each and every day. There’s no change in his approach, his personality, his mood no matter how things are going.

“Whether with himself or with the team, he just continues to be humble, hardworking, very driven and gives it everything.”

WATCH | Rielly lifts Maple Leafs over Lightning in OT:

Morgan Rielly plays the hero as Maple Leafs beat the Bolts in overtime

5 hours ago

Duration 1:51

Morgan Rielly scored with 45 seconds remaining in the first overtime period, as the Toronto Maple Leafs struck down the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3, to take a 2-1 lead in their first round playoff series.

O’Reilly, with a goal late in regulation that forced OT to go along with two assists, Auston Matthews and Noel Acciari scored in regulation for Toronto. Mitch Marner added two assists.

The Leafs, who have failed to win a post-season series since 2004 and experienced a string of recent playoff disappointments with its talented core led by Matthews, Marner and Tavares, recaptured home-ice advantage with dogged determination against a battle-tested, championship-calibre opponent.

“We certainly bent here tonight, but we didn’t break,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “The Tampa Bay Lightning played an incredible hockey game.”

Brandon Hagel, with a goal and an assist, Anthony Cirelli and Darryn Raddysh replied for Tampa, which got 23 stops from Vasilevskiy. Lighting defenceman Victor Hedman returned to the lineup after sitting out Game 2 with an undisclosed injury.

“Really liked our game,” said Tampa head coach Jon Cooper, whose team beat Toronto in a series that went the distance at the same stage of last spring’s playoffs. “Two really good hockey teams out there.

“We had ample chances.”

Game 4 of the best-of-seven matchup goes Monday back at Amalie Arena.

The teams traded blowout victories to open the series — the Lightning thumped the Leafs 7-3 in the opener before Toronto responded with an equally emphatic 7-2 triumph in Game 2 to set the stage for a tightly contested affair.

Tied 2-2 after Saturday’s opening 20 minutes, Raddysh scored his first career playoff goal at 13:34 of the second. The defenceman took a pass at the point and wheeled down the boards and around Samsonov’s net — fighting off both Matthew Knies and Jake McCabe in the process — before firing upstairs.

Tampa, which tilted the ice heavily earlier in the period on an under-siege Samsonov, appeared to go up by two on a power play off a strange sequence where the puck popped in front, but the officials ruled the Toronto netminder had it frozen before Brayden Point poked it home.

“I was shocked,” Cooper said of the call.

Point has injury scare

Injured in Game 7 of last year’s series, Point left later in the period after going shoulder-to-shoulder with Rielly and crashing into the boards.

Tampa’s 51-goal man tried to get up, but crumpled to the ice before heading to the locker room as players on both sides dropped the gloves, including a chaotic fight between Matthews — his first in the NHL — and Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. Point eventually returned to action after receiving treatment.

“I thought the play was clean,” Rielly said. “[Point] goes in hard, and I understand his teammates being frustrated by that.”

“All happens kind of quick,” Matthews added. “You gotta just stick up for yourself.”

Toronto, which lost Game 6 in OT in the same building last spring, had a two-minute power play when the dust settled, but were unable to capitalize with Matthews, Rielly and O’Reilly all in the box.

Keefe said his team deserved a 5-on-3 man advantage out of the shenanigans.

“Classic example of a veteran, championship team like Tampa Bay manipulating the officials and taking advantage of a situation,” he said. “They know we’re basically already going on the power play… so it’s a free for all they can do whatever they want.”

Samsonov, meanwhile, kept his team in it with a big save on Nick Paul at the midway point of the period.

“Stood his ground,” Keefe said. “Had his best hockey when it was most critical where we just could not afford to give up the next goal.”

Matthews, Stamkos, O’Reilly and Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov all missed nearly nine minutes of action because of the fighting majors and an extended stretch without a whistle.

O’Reilly got Toronto back even with exactly a minute left in regulation and Samsonov on the bench for an extra attacker with his second of the series from in tight to force OT after William Nylander threw the puck at Vasilevskiy.

“It’s a great feeling,” said O’Reilly, a 2019 Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP.

“Wasn’t the best game by us, but we stuck with it right to the end.”

Samsonov made a couple huge stops early in the extra period that was mostly one-way traffic, including one on a great individual effort from Kucherov before Rielly won it.

“Phenomenal all night,” Tavares said of his goaltender. “He’s the backbone.”

The Leafs opened the scoring at 3:24 of the first when Acciari scored before Tampa — which won the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021, and also made last spring’s final — responded 1:26 later when Cirelli fired past Samsonov.

Toronto went back in front at 11:10 when Matthews tipped a Marner one-timer past Vasilevskiy.

The Leafs survived a late Lightning power play, but Hagel tied it 2-2 when the puck leaked over the line underneath a splayed Samsonov with 30.1 seconds left in the period.

“Over the last number of years, we’ve lost this game a lot of times,” Keefe said.

“The guys stayed with it and made sure we got the win.”

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