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In a hockey game, there are certain tacks used to settle things down, to stymie momentum, and to minimize the damage when things aren't going particularly well.
The Toronto Maple Leafs used none of them in Game 4 versus the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Reserving their worst stretch of shifts in the entire series for their first few at the outset of a game in which they possessed a chance to take a stranglehold on the series, the Maple Leafs were run out of the building as quickly as they arrived.
Steven Stamkos scored the game's opening goal before Toronto could complete its first change at the one-minute mark. Then Tampa's fourth line would score twice before eight minutes could tick off the clock as the Lightning handed the Leafs the fastest three goals against to start a game all season long.
Two more within five minutes and change to begin the second period would spell the end for Jack Campbell, and the Lightning cruised to a 7-3 victory on the back of two empty-net goals.
It was a pair from William Nylander in the third period, and Jake Muzzin's second of the series in between those empty-net deposits, which would offer a measure of respectability to the final score.
Evening the series for the second time, Tampa's win only adds to the legend and record of sterling resolve for the two-time Stanley Cup champions. The Lightning have now won 16 consecutive games over the last three postseasons following a loss. Barely tested on this night, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been in net for each of those victories, improving his overall record despite allowing three goals or more for the fourth time in the series.
Tampa's track record speaks for itself, of course, and the Lightning's start in Game 4 was undeniable. But as impressive as they were, or remain, in situations like this one, it's not a stretch to say that Toronto's Game 4 fate was equal parts self-inflicted.
Errors mounted at an alarming rate in the game, beginning, it seemed, with Sheldon Keefe's decision to start his third pair. Justin Holl and Mark Giordano were snowed in on their first shift, unable to handle the determined forecheck, and the former's failure to connect with Ondrej Kase with a sloppy zone-exit attempt after a full shift spent in his own end directly led to Stamkos's ice-breaker.
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It was one thing after the other from there as Tampa, and its building, grew into the game.
Campbell's poor decision to serve a loose puck into the slot rather than cover it led to the next goal scored by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Then Tampa's fourth line scored for the second time in three shifts when Morgan Rielly stepped up when he shouldn't have, allowing Patrick Maroon to dance in and beat Campbell with a goal reminiscent of his brief stint with the London Knights.
After that, Jason Spezza was sent to the penalty box for pulling Maroon's helmet off his head with the shaft of his stick at the centre-ice faceoff circle. It was three goals and a man advantage for the Lightning before there was one positive play in the bank for the Leafs.
There was no coming back from that.
The focus shifted to when — not if — Campbell would be lifted from the game after he allowed the Lightning's fourth goal to sneak through his glove off the stick of Ross Colton just over three minutes into the second period.
He lasted a few more minutes when the Leafs continued the questionable trend of responding to being scored on by taking multiple penalties. It seemed Keefe preferred to not thrust Erik Kallgren into the game as the Lightning were looking to cook on one of their eight total power plays.
But if we're asking all the questions of this group after a dismal effort, it's fair to wonder why the backup's morale was prioritized over the surefire Game 5 starter.
To his credit, Kallgren was the best Leaf all night, making 10 saves on as many shots before leaving the net vacated for Tampa's sixth and seventh goals.
Even again, the series shifts back to Toronto for Game 5 on Tuesday night, where the Maple Leafs will look to build a third lead in the series.
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