Led by Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning’s star players outdueled the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.

The Leafs will not play Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs this year, but with the Lightning currently the hottest team in the NHL at game #75, it would not be surprising if they have to go through them again this spring should Toronto advance.

Your game in 10:

1.   Ryan Reaves did his best to set the tone early in the first period with one of the most inspired shifts from any Leaf player all season. He battled for body position in the slot and nearly scored with a tip off a point shot that went wide from the cage. Then, he laid out Matt Dumba and Victor Hedman hard in succession, setting the tone and getting the crowd into it early.

It was a great period for Ryan Reaves and his line with Conor Dewar and David Kampf, who provided great energy and sustained pressure in the offensive zone, including another shift to end the first period where they created multiple scoring chances. It was going so well that Sheldon Keefe did not hide them from the Lightning’s top lines in the first period (more on that later).

Reaves has been a menacing physical presence and respectable contributor in the run of play — safely getting pucks out or in the zone, establishing a forecheck/cycle/net-front presence — to the point where we could safely say he has earned his way into a Game 1 spot if the playoffs started tomorrow. We’ll see how it actually plays out with the numbers game and health situations (as well as the nature of the opponent), but few would’ve predicted such a statement a few months into his Leaf career.

2.   Unfortunately, despite a strong start in which the Leafs didn’t concede a shot for 10 minutes, Toronto took the game’s first penalty, creating a 6-on-5 man advantage where the Lightning can be so lethal.

Victor Hedman sifted a wrist shot from the point as Anthony Cirelli provided a screen on Joseph Woll. The shot had some zip and went bar down, but you’d like to see Woll be able to find a line on the puck past the screen to prevent the first shot of the game from going in from the outside. That’s three of his last four starts where the first shot has gone in, and he also conceded goals in the first 10 minutes or so in both losses to Boston.

We saw him settle in and do a decent job of keeping the game at three once it reached that point, but especially at playoff time, catch-up hockey isn’t often winning hockey. Game starts are critical against top teams, and Ilya Samsonov has been sharper in general but also in that particular area.

3.   The Leafs then took two consecutive penalties, which gave the Lightning and their dangerous power play a chance to stretch the lead. While there are not many positives from this game, the penalty kill was one of them.

They were able to defend their line quite well to prevent clean setups, and in the zone, the increased puck pressure meant that the Lightning were forced to rush plays and execute inside of limited time and space, which has been the recipe for the Leafs‘ turnaround while shorthanded of late (a switch to a diamond setup that’s allowed for more half-wall aggression/pressure, which the players are buying into and executing/adjusting to well).

With a minute left in the period, Auston Matthews scored with a one-timer slapshot from the point on the power play to even the score; it came directly off a set play on a clean draw win where Morgan Rielly teed him up from the top of the circle. It wasn’t his most powerful one-timer goal this season — it was a bit of a wobbling puck — but he’s scoring them from everywhere.

The Tampa Bay 6-on-5 goal evens it out even if it is not technically a power play goal, but still, if you went into this game and said the special teams were going to be a saw-off, you would’ve taken it if you were the Leafs knowing Tampa does so much of their damage on both sides of the man advantage.

4.  Less than three minutes into the middle frame, Brayden Point gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead.

After a great period from the fourth line, Sheldon Keefe left the Kampf line out for a defensive zone draw against the Lightning stars in Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov. Part of it was likely due to the unsuccessful power play not long before (tired legs for the top guys), but Keefe has also stated earlier this week that he is intentionally looking to challenge his bottom-six forwards to inside tough matchups down the stretch. On Monday, Pontus Holmberg‘s line was deployed late in the game and was scored on, which drew the Panthers within a goal (they were then dropped from the rotation).

Ultimately, unlike the Florida game with the aforementioned kid line, the most disappointing part is that this defensive mistake — which left a 50-goal-scoring center wide open in front — wasn’t from a relatively young player cutting his teeth in the league. David Kampf, who the team really does need to depend on at points in these exact kinds of defensive situations in the playoffs (filling a gap with a shift vs. a top line after a power play), simply left Point at the front of the net while the defensemen were engaged on the wall. It seemed like Kampf was hoping he could scoop up a puck as an extra support layer in the battles on the wall, but in the end, he was stranded in no-man’s land. He needed to stay in place until a defenseman returned to the net front.

It hasn’t been a one-off this season, either, as Kampf has shown more of a tendency to overextend himself at times (perhaps the natural desire to want to earn the new contract?). Big picture, he has been much better in the last few months and his line is showing a good deal of promise (with Dewar and Reaves), but his raison d’etre is to ensure the fundamentals are executed with a high degree of consistency. That’s ultimately what they’re paying him for — the consistency and reliability in the checking areas of the game. A slipup proved costly here.

5.   The Matthews line responded well to the goal, sustaining great pressure in the offensive zone to no avail. Five minutes after the 2-1 goal, Jake McCabe stepped up in the neutral zone, eliminating the body but not the puck. Combined with a partial line change for the tired legs of Domi and Bertuzzi, it created a 2-on-1 against.

Steven Stamkos was looking pass the whole way and then quickly went five-hole to beat Woll and extend the lead to two. Based on the run of play in the opening 40 minutes (63% xGF), the Leafs shouldn’t have been behind by two, but they gave up two egregious chances to the wrong players with the game at 1-1 and 2-1.

6.   The Maple Leafs then went to another power-play opportunity after Luke Glendening took his second minor penalty of the game with a knee-on-knee to Reaves. John Tavares had a nice chance from the slot, but Andrei Vasilevskiy steered it aside in what was a really stellar performance by the Lightning goaltender, who appears to be peaking at the right (or wrong) time of year (depending on your allegiances).

Woll kept the game within reach with his best save of the night near the end of the second period, robbing Brayden Point on a cross-crease pass. Shortly afterward, the Leafs got a great look the other way after Matthews sent a beautiful pass to the far post to Tyler Bertuzzi, who handled it a little awkwardly and couldn’t finish into the open net. It was now distinctly feeling like one of those nights for the Leafs.

7.   Continuing his impressive night, Reaves looked to breathe some life into his group with a heavyweight tilt against Tanner Jeannot early in the third. He got the best of Jeannot, turned to his bench, and motioned to fire up the team.

The coaching staff will have to make some tough decisions when Mitch Marner and eventually Calle Järnkrok return, but Reaves is knowing, embracing, and executing his role as well as could be asked in the last few weeks. It’s just about how much the coaching staff will value that role at playoff time and the other options at their disposal (fully healthy, only two of Reaves, Dewar, Holmberg, and Robertson can play). If it’s ultimately a round-one match-up against Florida, they should probably value Reaves’ presence — at least the one we’ve seen over the last few weeks — more highly, but it’s not a straightforward call.

8.   At the 16-minute mark of the third, Woll made another nice save on a partial breakaway from Nikita Kucherov. Nicholas Paul then did a good job of grabbing Conor Timmins’ stick to make it appear that he was hooked, but Joseph Woll kept the team in the game with two key saves against Point and Kucherov.

You wanted one more save somewhere along the way in the first two periods, but Woll did allow the team a chance at a comeback by effectively shaking off the three goals on his first 13 shots, so the performance wasn’t totally irredeemable.

9.   The most disappointing part about the calibre of the Leafs’ performance in this game — which was solid in the opening 40 minutes — was the lack of a credible pushback in the third period, where they were outshot 9-1 at 5v5 before the Lightning found their put-away goal. Tampa was disciplined and defensively sound with the lead, but the Leafs generated very little.

The Leafs’ best chance of the period came as Morgan Rielly sent a puck into the slot from the point that William Nylander directed just wide. After Conor Timmins tried to jump in and make something happen at the top of the zone, John Tavares also tried to press but ran into a Lightning defender.

The puck was turned the other way, and with the Maple Leafs caught with numbers up ice, it was another 2-on-1 for the Lightning. Nicholas Paul iced the game with a nice top-shelf wrist shot from just inside the top of the faceoff circle. Woll was beaten while deeper in his net, but he also had to respect the pass threat on the play.

10.   The rest of the period was garbage time, with both teams essentially just running out their depth players. Ultimately, the Lightning’s stars (Vasilevskiy, Point, Kucherov, Stamkos, Hedman) carried them to a win in this game. Switch goaltenders, and the first 40 minutes probably doesn’t show a two-goal Lightning lead, but the Leafs also made the bigger mistakes, and — for the first time in a while, perhaps since the tired situation in Carolina — really seemed to lack ideas and jump offensively in the third period.

They’ll now receive one of their most creative offensive players back in the lineup on Saturday in Montreal, which should provide enough regular-season games for Sheldon Keefe to figure out how to reintegrate Mitch Marner while still keeping the momentum of his balanced-attack approach rolling ahead of the playoffs. Should be interesting.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Joe Bowen & Jim Ralph Game Highlights: Lightning 4 vs. Leafs 1