Vasilevskiy's 6th shutout helps Lightning beat Maple Leafs

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) makes a save on Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Matt Martin (15) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

TORONTO (AP) Andrei Vasilevskiy showed the Toronto Maple Leafs why he's one of the NHL's most dominant goalies this season.

Vasilevskiy stopped 30 shots for his NHL-best sixth shutout of the season to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 2-0 victory over the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.

Vasilevskiy got his league-leading 26th win, and Cedrick Paquette and Alex Killorn scored for Tampa Bay, which won for the 12th time in 14 games.

"It feels good," Vasilevskiy said. "Sometimes (our defense) is able to help me and sometimes I'm able to help them."

The 23-year-old Russian is enjoying a career season with Tampa Bay. When the Lightning parted ways with goalie Ben Bishop last season, they did so with the hope that Vasilevskiy was ready to become the team's undisputed starter.

He's played in 12 playoff games, including two appearances during the team's Stanley Cup Final run in 2015, but there was always a question of how he would handle the spotlight and workload that comes with being the true No. 1.

So far, he's proven worthy of the promotion.

"It's just been a pleasure to watch him grow in this league," Lightning coach John Cooper said. "He makes us a little bigger on the bench, that's for sure."

Frederik Andersen had 34 saves for Toronto, which lost its third straight and is 3-6-1 in its last 10 games.

Tampa Bay controlled much of the pace during the first period, outshooting Toronto 25-12. The Lightning opened the scoring when Chris Kunitz stripped the puck from Andersen while the goalie was handling it behind the net. Kunitz centered a pass to Paquette in the slot and he converted at 12:00 for his first goal since last Jan. 21.

"It was that type of goal where everyone was just on their checks," Kunitz said.

The Lightning added to their lead when Killorn's shot from the circle went through Andersen's legs. Initially, game officials let play resume as they ruled no goal at the time but after 22 seconds the league office called in to interrupt play and award Tampa the goal at with 3:06 remaining.

"I didn't think it went in at the time, I didn't see it unless it would have hit the back of the net," Killorn said of the sequence. "But I knew when the buzzer went, it was a goal."

The Leafs' best chance to score came in the second period when Mitch Marner had a breakaway. He cut across and forced Vasilevskiy to stretch across the net to make a pad save.

"He made a really good play and I think I got lucky a little bit," Vasilevskiy said of Marner's chance.

Marner had a solid second, highlighting an issue the Leafs have had at points throughout the year: slow starts.

"I thought the first period for him and that line was not very good. Then I thought he dominated the game in the second and third," Babcock said of Marner. "When you're going to be a driver on our team like he's going to be, it's every night. You've got to be ready to go right from the get-go."

NOTES: Leafs C Nazem Kadri returned to the lineup after missing two games with an upper-body injury. ... Toronto C Frederik Gauthier made his regular-season debut.

UP NEXT

Lightning: At Montreal on Thursday night in the middle game of a five-game trip.

Maple Leafs: Host San Jose on Thursday night in the second of a stretch of six straight at home.

Updated January 2, 2018

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