NHL

Keefe hails 'outstanding' Toronto fightback at Lightning as Matthews warns finding fourth win will be hardest task yet

By Sports Desk April 25, 2023

Auston Matthews urged the Toronto Maple Leafs to finish the job at the earliest opportunity as they bid to clear the first hurdle in the NHL playoffs for the first time since 2004.

A dazzling fightback on Monday saw Toronto surge from 4-1 behind against the Tampa Bay Lightning to win 5-4 in overtime and seize a 3-1 series lead.

The Eastern Conference first-round tussle is a repeat of last year's matchup, when Toronto led 3-2 but wound up losing 4-3.

Tampa Bay went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, denied glory by the Colorado Avalanche.

Toronto have endured a long wait to win a playoff series, so they will be doubly determined to get this particularly job done at the earliest opportunity having put themselves in such a strong position. Their first chance comes on home ice on Thursday.

After being dominated early on in Monday's game, Matthews got the comeback rolling by scoring twice in the third period to cut Toronto's deficit to 4-3 with 7:31 remaining.

It was Morgan Rielly who levelled up, and Alexander Kerfoot hit the game winner on a power play in overtime.

Matthews said: "I thought in the locker room and everything we stayed focused. Just chip away, chip away."

Asked about game-winner Kerfoot, who has an economics degree from Harvard, Matthews said: "I can't say enough good things about 'Kerf'. He's a guy everyone loves and gravitates to in the locker room and on the ice he's so versatile.

"We all love him in this room, and it was a big goal from him tonight to take hold of the series.

"But we all know in this room that the job's not close to finished. We've got to refocus, enjoy this one, but obviously the fourth one's the hardest one to win."

Reflecting on what it took to win a second consecutive game in OT at Amalie Arena, Matthews said: "This is a loud environment, especially when they get going. I thought halfway through the second we started to find our game a little bit.

"We know who we're up against, the group and what they've accomplished, especially in the last couple of years. We know they're going to be ready to come in Game 5."

Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said his teams were "on top of the puck more" as the game went on.

"We started the game fine, but when they scored, the building gets loud, they get feeling good, they took it to us pretty good the rest of the first," Keefe said.

"The message going into the third was to not go away, stay with it. You're not necessarily thinking you're going to come back in the game, you just want to stay there and give yourself a chance rather than going away and moving on to the next one."

He told his team to win that third period.

"Credit to the group, the spirit of the group, carrying us through to come back in this fashion," Keefe added. "It was outstanding to witness and be a part of."

Kerfoot was the hero of the hour, and the 28-year-old said: "It's what you dream about, scoring goals in overtime in the playoffs.

"There was a lot of belief in our room, even after the first two periods. We started to put the heat on them a little bit, our big guys came though getting us to overtime, and we got one on the power play in the end."

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