Toronto Maple Leafs show their maturity in victory over Lightning

TORONTON, ON - JANUARY 6: Frederik Andersen
TORONTON, ON - JANUARY 6: Frederik Andersen /

They didn’t coast to a victory, but the Toronto Maple Leafs squeaked out a win on home ice against the Tampa Bay Lightning

You couldn’t have asked for a better first two periods from the Toronto Maple Leafs, or a worse start to the third for the team. But y the final horn, Toronto showed the hockey world that they had learned from past mistakes, pulling out a close win against the Tampa Bay Lightning by a 4-3 score on Monday night.

Toronto had a fast start to the game, putting together some solid shifts with constant pressure on Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Lightning defence. The Leafs held a 7-2 advantage in shots early but by the end of the first period, they were all knotted up at nine apiece.

It only takes one shot in hockey, and the Leafs took the lead off a rocket of a shot by William Nylander, who one-timed home a Auston Matthews feed.

"“He’s got a pretty good shot to begin with. But obviously you like to mess around after practice and work on different things, different angles, harder angles. So I guess it pays off by putting in extra time after practice,” Matthews said to reporters following the game."

Nylander followed that up with another goal in the second. Matthews fed the winger for a breakaway, and he snapped the puck past Vasilevskiy to give the Leafs a two-goal cushion.

Mitch Marner got the secondary assist on the play. It was the first time that he, Matthews, and Nylander have been all in on a goal in their careers.

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Jake Gardiner would add a third goal before Alex Killorn would finally get the visitors on the board before the end of the second period.

The real adversity came in the third period. The Leafs have been known as a team that has trouble holding the lead. The plan was simple. Protect your own net and push for another goal to put it out of reach.

It only took 20 seconds to give everyone another reminder of why the Lightning sit atop the NHL standings.

Nikita Kucherov made it a one-goal game 58 seconds into the third. He was quickly followed by Yanni Gourde, who tied it off a tip-in.

If it was last years team, there would be heaps of concern as to whether or not they could bounce back from such an abysmal start to the third. Lucky for Leafs fans, this isn’t last year.

James van Riemsdyk gave the Buds the lead back with a squeaker past Vasilevskiy.

From there it was about defence. Mike Babcock decided to give every Leaf fan a minor heart attack by throwing out Roman Polak for the final minute of play.

I’ll save the Roman Polak spiel for another day. Just watch this and make up your mind on him.

The Lightning outshot the Maple Leafs 34-23 in the game. Frederik Andersen had to be big for his team once again in the win.

The 28-year-old made 31 stops and built up even more hype as one of the best goaltenders in the league by out-battling Vasilevskiy, who is considered a top pick for the Vezina this season.

Andersen gave praise to his teammate’s ability to bounce back following the game.

"“I think we did a good job today. It happens sometimes against good teams. They’re not just going to roll over. We had to battle to the very last minute.”"

The Leafs have now won eight of their last 10 games. They’ve got a tough portion of the schedule to end the month. They have another matchup with Tampa, as well as games against Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Boston. However, they do get to play Florida and Detroit in that stretch as well.

The Blue Jackets are the Leafs next task. It hasn’t gone well for them in the previous two matchups. The latest game resulted in an overtime loss at the Air Canada Centre.

Next: Trading for Rick Nash doesn’t fit Leafs' plan

They will converge again on the ACC for their third and final meeting of the season on Wednesday.