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Maple Leafs beat NHL-leading Lightning 4-2

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Although they trail Tampa Bay by 14 points in the standings, the Toronto Maple Leafs are having some head-to-head success against the top team in the NHL.

Mitch Marner scored a go-ahead goal late in the second period, Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau each had a goal and an assist, and the Maple Leafs beat the Lightning 4-2 on Thursday night.

“I think we embrace the challenge of playing against the best, and I think we’ve proved time and time again even though there’s tough parts to the season we compete with the best,” Kadri said. “I think that’s an important note to take out of this game.”

Frederik Andersen stopped 36 shots and Zach Hyman added an empty-netter for the Maple Leafs, who had lost five of seven.

“We showed we’re a pretty good hockey team when we work this hard,” Andersen said.

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Tampa Bay got goals from Brayden Point and Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 27 saves. Nikita Kucherov, the NHL leader with 76 points, had an assist after two straight games without a point.

“We had our chances, they had their chances,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We had some good looks.”

The Lightning have a 14-point lead in the Atlantic Division over Toronto. Tampa Bay’s nine-game home winning streak ended.

The teams are currently lined up for a potential second-round playoff series.

The Maple Leafs lost the first meeting between the teams 4-1 on Dec. 13 despite outshooting Tampa Bay 49-21 and hitting the post or crossbar four times during the opening 30 minutes.

The final two games of the season series are March 11 and April 4 in Toronto.

Toronto took a 3-2 lead with 5:11 left in the second when Andreas Johnsson made a nifty backhand pass from behind the net to John Tavares, who sent the puck through the crease to a wide-open Marner.

Marner reached 60 points in 46 team games, tied for fourth-fastest in Maple Leafs history. Only Lorne Carr (39 games, 1943-44), Darryl Sittler (40, 1977-78) and Doug Gilmour (41, 1992-93) did it quicker.

The center is also the first Maple Leafs player to begin his NHL career with three consecutive 60-point seasons.

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Tavares finished with two assists.

Both goalies made strong saves during the third. Andersen went post-to-post to stop Kucherov’s shot, and Vasilevskiy reached back near the goal line to grab Auston Matthews’ shot that went off his glove.

Andersen faced 16 shots in the third.

“Excellent, especially down the stretch,” Kadri said. “We needed him. He’s been the backbone of our team.”

After Marleau ended a nine-game goal drought with his 11th of the season at 13:06 of the second, Hedman pulled Tampa Bay even at 2 just 37 seconds later.

Marleau has 546 goals overall, 30th on the career list. He has 695 assists.

Point opened the scoring 9:48 into the game on his 30th goal during a power play. The center became the first NHL player to have at least 30 goals and 30 assists this season.

“They’re a team that’s kind of built like us,” Point said. “They do a good job of taking away time and space.”

Toronto tied it 1-all two minutes later on Kadri’s goal.

Lightning star Steven Stamkos finished minus-two but had 10 shots on goal, six shots blocked and missed the net on two.

NOTES: Toronto reached 60 points in 46 games, which tied the team record (1934-35, 1950-51 and 1961-62) for fewest games needed. … Point has 13 power-play goals. … Kadri stopped a 10-game goal drought. … Stamkos got his 350th assist on Point’s goal. He has six assists over the last five games. … Tampa Bay C Tyler Johnson left with a lower-body injury.

UP NEXT

Maple Leafs: Play at Florida on Friday night.

Lightning: Host the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.

___

More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

The Western Journal has not reviewed this Associated Press story prior to publication. Therefore, it may contain editorial bias or may in some other way not meet our normal editorial standards. It is provided to our readers as a service from The Western Journal.

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