Alex Kerfoot scored on a tip-in in overtime on Monday to complete one of the greatest comebacks in franchise history as the Maple Leafs defeated the Lightning 5-4 at Amalie Arena.
The victory gives Toronto a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven first-round playoff series with Game 5 at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday.
The Maple Leafs have not won a round in the playoffs since 2004 and have been eliminated in the first round in the postseason the past six years.
Toronto trailed 4-1 midway through the third period but got two goals from Auston Matthews and another by Morgan Rielly to tie it at 4-4 with 3:56 remaining in regulation time.
Then it was Kerfoot time.
“That’s what you dream about, scoring a goal in the playoffs to win a game,” Kerfoot said. “We had a lot of belief in our dressing room even after the second period.”
Kerfoot is one of the most valuable forwards on the team due to his versatility. He has moved up and down in the lineup and plays both centre and wing.
“I can’t say enough about him,” Matthews said. “Everyone gravitates toward him the locker room.”
It was the Maple Leafs’ second consecutive overtime triumph. They tied it late on Saturday and won 4-3 on a goal by Rielly with 45 seconds left in the first 20-minute overtime period.
Ilya Samsonov had 27 saves in another heart-pounding win in the den of the NHL’s most experienced team.
Alex Killorn scored twice for Tampa Bay and Steven Stamkos and Mikhail Sergachev had one goal each.
Andrei Vasilevskiy had 32 saves in the loss.
The Maple Leafs stole one in Game 3 on Saturday night and as such had an opportunity to leave the Lightning in a 3-1 hole and on the verge of elimination with another win. Darned if they didn’t do it.
Tampa Bay has won two of the past three Stanley Cups and reached the finals last year. It will be tough to win three in a row but if anyone could do it, it is them.
The Lightning outplayed the Maple Leafs in Game 3 but fell victim to a tying goal in the last minute by Ryan O’Reilly and the winner with 45 seconds remaining in the first overtime period by Rielly.
Toronto was eliminated by Tampa Bay in seven games in the first round a year ago and by Montreal in seven in 2021.
Tampa Bay came out flying on Monday and had the visitors on their heels.
Samsonov kept the game without a goal when he stymied Brandon Hagel on a penalty shot with 12:15 left in the first period after Rielly tripped the Lightning left wing to prevent a breakaway.
But then William Nylander was called for tripping less than two minutes later and that resulted in a pretty goal by Killorn off passes from Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov.
Samsonov prevented more damage when he stopped Killorn from in tight but with 1:33 left Brayden Point picked Kerfoot’s pocket in Toronto’s end and Mikhail Sergachev deposited a long wrist shot for a 2-0 lead. Point and Kucherov both got assists.
In the first 20 minutes Toronto had four more giveaways (nine) than it did shots.
The Maple Leafs had a better start in the second period and climbed back to 2-1 when Noel Acciari tipped in a shot by Justin Holl a little less than five minutes in. The goal was set up when O’Reilly stripped a puck from Kucherov in the Lightning’s zone.
The temperature started to rise on both sides with lots of pushing and shoving and unpleasantries shared.
With 8:29 left in the second, Victor Hedman knuckled a puck toward Toronto’s net that bounced off the skate of Maple Leafs centre David Kampf and past Samsonov. Steven Stamkos was credited with the goal, his first of the series.
With just 1:11 before the second intermission, Killorn scored again on a lovely wrist shot that went over Samsonov’s left shoulder. That continued Toronto’s troubling trend of allowing goals in the last minute or so.
The game looked like it was but over until a furious rally that Maple Leafs fans will likely remember forever.
“We started to find our game a little better in the second period and in the locker room between periods we just told each other to stay focused and chip chip away,” Matthews said.
Said Sheldon Keefe, the Maple Leafs coach: “We played well in the second period but we gave up two goals. My message for the third was to not go away. My credit to the spirit of this group to come back in this fashion.”
Tampa Bay is a veteran team that is unlikely to go away without a fight. It has eight players who have appeared in more than 100 playoff games and two who have been in 95. Vasilevskiy started his 108th Stanley Cup game on Monday.
Calle Jarnkrok leads all active Toronto players with 78 appearance in postseason, most when he played for Nashville. O’Reilly has the next-most with 67, followed by Acciari (57), Wayne Simmonds (53) and T.J. Brodie (47).
At times this season Kerfoot has struggled and been upset about a lack of playing time.
“I encouraged him to stay positive,” Keefe said. “I felt he was going to score a massive goal for us at some point this season. I am thrilled he was the one to get it done tonight.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Tampa Bay was eliminated by Toronto in seven games last year.