More Game 7 heartache for Maple Leafs as Nick Paul powers Lightning

More Game 7 heartache for Maple Leafs as Nick Paul powers Lightning
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During the first Game 7 on Saturday, Max Domi emerged as an unexpected multiple goal-scorer for the Hurricanes. Nick Paul pulled off similar heroics for the Lightning in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs.

Paul scored both of the Lightning’s goals in Game 7. That would end up being all that Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Bolts needed, ending another Maple Leafs season in First Round heartbreak.

In many ways, this one felt different for Toronto. This one was close. You need to nitpick to beef about efforts from stars like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares.

The look may not be the same. But the result basically was. (Even most of those brutal Buds letdowns came in Game 7-type situations.)

As close as it was to ending, the Lightning’s three-peat bid lives on, and we’ll see another “Battle of Florida” as the Panthers will be their opponent.

Nick Paul the difference-maker for Lightning over Maple Leafs in Game 7

Being that Nick Paul’s spent his career with the Senators before being traded to the Lightning, it’s not that shocking that he scored his first career playoff goal in Game 7. Either way, it’s impressive that he found the net twice.

Actually, if you count a hard collision with Jack Campbell, Nick Paul “found it” three times.

Scary-looking injury for Brayden Point

In a scary moment, Brayden Point fell awkwardly into the boards, suffering an unclear lower-body injury. It’s been noted that Point underwent hip surgery somewhat recently. It could be any number of things, but either way, Point couldn’t put much weight on his injured leg.

Point tried to return to Game 7, but his mobility was clearly too hindered.

Could the wear-and-tear of repeat Stanley Cup runs be slowing Tampa Bay down? Darren Dreger also wondered if Nikita Kucherov is fully healthy.

While players like Carter Verhaeghe are banged up (he was a game-time decision in Game 6), it feels like the Panthers will have rest, injury, and “freshness” advantages over the Lightning. That doesn’t mean it will be an easy ride, though. But the stage is set reasonably well for the Cats to get revenge vs. the Bolts.

Disallowed Tavares goal (Holl interference) creates some Game 7 controversy

No doubt, one of the lingering controversies of Maple Leafs – Lightning Game 7 was a disallowed goal. It seemed like John Tavares scored an impressive goal, but it was overturned thanks to a “pick” by Justin Holl on Anthony Cirelli.

Personally, this indeed looked like interference (again, a pick). But Maple Leafs fans were upset, either by the call happening, or by officials arguably missing comparable Lightning infractions. (Close to that Holl call/Tavares disallowed goal, William Nylander should’ve drawn a penalty while being slowed on a semi-breakaway opportunity.)

With any debate like this, it’s easy to get swept up in different details. You can cherry-pick any number of calls in a Game 7, or other parts of a series. That said, it can be frustrating if it feels like the level of officiating changes from game to game, or even period to period.

You know there’s some disdain around a decision when an official’s name starts trending on Twitter.

Either way, the goal did not count.

A championship-level effort

Ultimately, the Lightning limited the Maple Leafs’ chances. Sometimes that meant surviving, especially during Toronto’s dangerous third period power play.

Overall, though, Tampa Bay was able to slow Toronto’s weapons, and score enough to win.

Personally, the Maple Leafs lost to the Lightning in a very close series that went to Game 7. This doesn’t scream “burn it all down.”

However management reacts to another First Round exit, it remains once again what the Toronto Maple Leafs must stomach.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

    avalanche injuries
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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

    Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.