It was no secret coming into Thursday’s game at the Air Canada Centre that Steven Stamkos felt right at home in front of the Toronto Maple Leafs crowd.
Already with five points in the previous two meetings against his favorite childhood team, Stamkos turned in another pleasant homecoming in which the Lightning center extended the league’s longest active point streak to 18 games with his third straight multi-point performance.
“He’s a great guy to learn off of and he’s one of the top scorers in the league, so it’s going to be a lot of fun learning from him,” teammate Teddy Purcell said.
The Markham, Ontario native scored for the seventh straight game at 18:17 on a first-period power play to come one away from tying the franchise’s consecutive games streak with a goal, as Tampa Bay fell for just the first time in the last four meetings in Toronto in a resilient 4-3 overtime effort.
“I think it starts in practice when you’re feeling good and you’re finding areas to put the puck in the net,” Stamkos said. “I think you try to translate all of that over to the game. My confidence level is definitely at the highest point it’s ever been in the NHL right now. You’re coming into games expecting to produce and that’s a good pressure that I like and something I try to thrive on.”
Kurtis Foster and Steve Downie also had goals for the Lightning, who earned at least a point for the second time in the last three.
“This was an important game for us coming off a loss to Montreal, so we wanted to take the crowd out of it first,” Purcell added. “We had some good chances and that was a big goal by Stammer in the first to finish off the period and get us going.”
Viktor Stalberg had two goals for Toronto, Tyler Bozak also scored, and Phil Kessel added the game winner 3:33 into the tiebreaker as the Leafs won in front of the home crowd for the fourth time in their last six games.
Stamkos got things rolling when he one-timed a slap shot from the left circle on the power play to put Tampa Bay up 1-0 as the first period came to a close.
“It was a good play by Stammer to close the first period,” Purcell said. “Out West, you get to see his stats but you don’t get to see him play too much. Over this past week I’m realizing how good he is.”
Foster tallied an assist on the goal, giving the Bolts defenseman his fifth assist in the last four consecutive games.
Foster later evened things up at two apiece following Stalberg’s second of the night with a slap shot that came just 24 seconds after the Leafs winger gave Toronto a one-goal advantage at 16:17.
“Stammer did a great job in getting the puck back to me. It was a rolling puck, so I wanted to throw it on net and see what happens. I think it actually hit off a body, but I’ll take it,” Foster said.
Stalberg’s first of the game from the right hash marks knotted the score at 9:29 in the second period, as the puck deflected off the stick of Lightning defenseman Mike Lundin before redirecting into the net past Tampa Bay goaltender Mike Smith.
Bozak put Toronto back in front to open the third as he wristed a puck that redirected off a skate through the slot past Smith, but Downie scored on a rebound off the draw at 5:00 even to send a 3-3 game into overtime.
Both teams exchanged strong scoring chances at each end, but Kessel eventually netted the game-winner on a backhand to finish off an odd-man rush, beating Smith to give the Maple Leafs their second consecutive victory in the extra session.
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