Vasilevskiy backstops Lightning to 4-1 victory over Leafs; Matthews scores No. 63

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Vasilevskiy Solid As Lightning Defeat Maple Leafs
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy makes a save on Toronto Maple Leafs' William Nylander during the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, April 3, 2024, in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

TORONTO (AP) — Andrei Vasilevskiy made 28 saves as the Tampa Bay Lightning topped Toronto 4-1 on Wednesday despite Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews adding to his NHL lead with the sniper’s 63rd goal of the season.

Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Brayden Point and Nicholas Paul scored for Tampa.

Nikita Kucherov, who entered the night tied with Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon for the league lead with 127 points, added three assists.

“Felt good,” said the Russian winger, who put up 128 points in 2018-19. “Felt even better we got the (win).”

Brandon Hagel also set up two goals for the Lightning, who moved within four points of the Leafs for third in the Atlantic Division.

Vasilevskiy, whose 2023-24 stat line doesn’t match his career numbers, is rounding into form after undergoing back surgery in September.

“A big part of that early was our fault as a team,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of the netminder’s numbers. “As our game’s (improved), a big part of it is because we’ve jumped on Vassy’s back.”

The teams each have seven games remaining on the schedule — including April 17 in Tampa in the regular-season finale for both clubs.

Joseph Woll stopped 21 shots for Toronto, which saw a three-game winning streak snapped on a night it could have secured a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs for an eighth straight campaign with a single point.

“We made a few more mistakes than they did,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “They played a really good, smart defensive game.”

The Leafs remain four points back of the Florida Panthers for second in the division with a game in hand.

“A couple odd-man rushes,” Woll said. “Ends up being the difference.”

Toronto defenseman Morgan Rielly returned to the lineup after missing four games with an upper-body injury.

Sitting comfortably in the Eastern Conference’s top wild-card spot, the Lightning took a 1-0 lead on a delayed penalty at 10:03 of the opening period when Hedman scored his 13th goal of the season through a screen — the third time in four starts Woll has allowed the first shot he’s faced to hit the back of Toronto’s net.

Matthews responded with 1 minute left before the intermission when he blasted his 63rd on a one-timer off a Rielly setup just three seconds into a power play.

The 26-year-old is on pace for 69 goals, but is eyeing 70 — a number not reached in the NHL since Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny both bagged 76 in 1992-93.

“It’s fun to watch,” Toronto enforcer Ryan Reaves said of Matthews’ push to become the first player in more than three decades to hit the milestone. “You’re watching history, you’re watching Maple Leaf history. We rally behind him and hope he keeps going.”

Looking to spark his team, Leafs enforcer Ryan Reaves dropped the gloves with Tampa Bay forward Tanner Jeannot three minutes into the third in a spirited bout.

“Didn’t really think it was a time to fight, but he asked me,” Reaves said. “You look at the situation in the game, I thought, ‘If we’re gonna go, draw some energy for the boys.’”

UP NEXT

Lightning: At Montreal on Thursday night.

Maple Leafs: At Montreal on Saturday night

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl