A few unfortunate bounces and a pair of untimely penalties defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning more so than the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
Vincent Lecavalier scored the lone goal for Tampa Bay, which erased a one-goal deficit in the first period, but it wasn’t enough to ignite the Lightning, who fell 7-1 to the Maple Leafs in front of a sellout crowd 19,204 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
“We came out in the first period and I thought we had a really good period,” Lecavalier said. “We were making a lot of good plays, but obviously our penalties tonight put us in a really bad spot. We got away from it in the second period. We gave them opportunities to score and they took advantage of it.”
While on the power play, the Bolts captain one-timed a feed from Steven Stamkos from the right circle, which snuck inside the near post to tie things at one after Clarke MacArthur beat Dwayne Roloson for the game’s first goal just 41 seconds in.
Roloson made 15 saves on 21 shots, but was chased in the third period after Joffrey Lupul made it 6-1 just 4:28 into the final period.
Tampa Bay has now lost four of the past five, including two straight at home, after seeing its six-game win streak at the Times Forum snapped in a 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils three nights ago.
“It’s very frustrating,” Lightning center Nate Thompson said. “We win as a team and we lose as a team. We’re going through a tough time right now.”
Despite allowing the game’s first goal, Tampa Bay settled after that, at least for the next 16 minutes, holding a 10-4 shot advantage.
It appeared as if Tampa Bay would not only counter, but go ahead after getting a number of good looks down in Toronto’s own defensive zone. Instead, Brett Clark’s shot off the cross bar and a couple of key saves by Leafs net minder Jonas Gustavsson kept things close.
Rather than use the momentum from the Lightning captain’s game-tying goal in the opening frame, Tampa Bay instead was whistled for consecutive penalties in the final 3:40, allowing Toronto to take a two-goal lead into the second period.
First, with Victor Hedman off for a four-minute high sticking infraction, Tim Connolly’s tip-in re-established the Maple Leafs’ one goal lead at 17:56. Tyler Bozak then padded the lead just 1:26 later after cashing in a rebound on Phil Kessel’s initial chance with Pavel Kubina in the penalty box for interference.
“That’s part of playing the 60 minutes is doing everything right and not taking penalties,” Thompson added.
Toronto won for the second time in its past three tries. The Maple Leafs, despite losing six of its previous nine games prior to Tuesday’s contest in Tampa Bay, now lead the Northeast Division with 26 points.
Joe Colborne and Joey Crabb also had goals for Toronto. Gustavsson finished the night with 27 saves.
“The guys played great,” Gustavsson said. “Sometimes you need to stop some shots though, and it’s always nice to contribute. Overall I think we had a solid game.”
Colborne’s first career NHL goal at 17:45 made it 4-1 late in the second period.
Matt Frattin helped set up the play after splitting two Lightning defenders in the high slot, and after dragging Roloson out wide, dishing a behind-the-back pass to the Leafs forward who tapped it in to an empty net for a three-goal lead.
“I’m going to tell people it happened a lot differently in a couple of years,” Colborne said. “I’ll take anything I can get and I think I was more happy that we were on for two goals and none against.”
A pair of goals in a span of 1:21 then helped the Maple Leafs go up by five.
A costly turnover by Roloson behind his own net led to Bozak’s second of the night to put Toronto up five. Lupul’s 11th of the season just moments later proved to be Roloson’s last, as he was pulled from net in favor of Garon, who played the final 15 minutes of regulation.
Garon stopped four of five shots, yielding his only goal to Crabb, who capped the scoring with his third of the season at 14:28 of the third.
“We played a terrific first period,” Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher said. “I can’t ask for anything more from our team. They came out flying, we executed, we had the jump, we were shooting and they were doing great. We had a stupid penalty against us, and I strongly feel that after that first period, the players felt it was unfair for them to be trailing after such a good period. But I also think they were disappointed in themselves to kind of sabotage the way they were playing.”