Nick Paul scored twice, including an incredible individual effort on the winner late in the second period, as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 in Game 7 on Saturday to win their first-round playoff series 4-3 in Toronto.
Andrei Vasilevskiy made 29 saves for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.
Morgan Rielly replied for Toronto, which hasn’t moved onto the second round since 2004 and is now 0-9 in elimination games over the last five post-seasons after also losing Game 6 by a 4-3 scoreline in Tampa two nights earlier.
Despite their best efforts, the Leafs were once again unable to push through and finally flip an long, ugly narrative of playoff failures for a franchise that has now lost its last seven series, including six straight dating back to 2017.
Toronto is now 7-3 all-time at home in Game 7s, including a loss at Scotiabank Arena last season after blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Montreal Canadiens.
WATCH | Paul leads charge as Lightning top Maple Leafs:
Down 1-0 after 20 minutes Saturday, the Leafs appeared to tie the game at 11:28 of the second when John Tavares roofed a shot on Vasilevskiy, but the goal was waved off after Toronto defenceman Justin Holl was whistled for interference.
Campbell had to make a couple of desperation stops on the ensuing penalty kill to set the stage for Rielly’s equalizer off a setup from Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews to score his third of the playoffs at 6:35 to send the crowd of 19,316 into a chaotic frenzy.
The goal was the first surrendered by Vasilevskiy and the Lightning in their last six series-deciding games.
William Nylander then missed high on a breakaway and the Tampa goaltender robbed Matthews with the Leafs buzzing.
But Paul scored his second of the night — and second ever in the playoffs — with 3:28 remaining in the period on a terrific play where he kicked the puck from his skate to his stick.
Tampa nearly made it 3-1 late in the period when Kucherov hit Campbell’s post from the slot.
Leafs put pressure on late
Vasilevskiy was under siege throughout a Leafs’ power play just over six minutes into the third, but kept the home side at bay despite some furious pressure.
Toronto continued to press inside an anxious, tension-filled rink as the clock ticked down.
The Leafs, however, just couldn’t find a way through with Campbell on the bench for an extra attack to complete another chapter of playoff disappointment.
Tavares nearly blew opened the scoring on a great chance in close where Vasilevskiy shot out his left pad before the 2019 Vezina Trophy winner denied Marner.
Campbell then held the fort on a Lightning power play on a couple of great looks for the visitors.
Brayden Point, who scored the winner in Tampa’s Game 6 victory to extend the series, was injured late in the first when his right leg got caught underneath him as he fell to the ice. The winger — in agony as he headed down the tunnel to the locker room — tried to return for the second period, but shut it down after a brief shift.
The Lightning went up 1-0 moments after Point went down in the first when Paul, who had a number of chances in Game 5 with his team ahead before Toronto roared back, scored his first.
Campbell made the initial stop on Ross Colton’s one-timer off the rush that nicked Rielly’s stick, but the rebound fell to Paul at 1:36 as Toronto surrendered the first goal for a fourth straight game.
The Lightning were playing in just their second Game 7 since the start of the 2020 playoffs after defeating the New York Islanders 1-0 on home in the semifinals last June.
Toronto’s last Game 7 at home with fans — the club’s 2021 loss against Montreal was played in front of 550 health-care workers because of COVID-19 restrictions — since 2004 when Joe Nieuwendyk scored twice to oust the Ottawa Senators.
The Leafs didn’t make the playoffs again until 2013 when they collapsed in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins. The club’s new generation made the playoffs for the first time in 2017, but has suffered a string of heartbreak that continued Saturday night.