The Tampa Bay Lightning rookies displayed that they belong in the National Hockey League yet again on Wednesday night.
Unfortunately, however, the exhibit of skills came in a losing effort.
The pair of goals came just 9:18 apart in the third period, as the Lightning attempted to come from behind after entering the final frame in a 4-0 hole.
“We didn’t get the start we wanted, and we need to find a way to come out stronger,” Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said. “For the most part, it looked like they wanted it more.”
The loss brought an end to a modest two-game win streak for Tampa Bay, which received 15 saves from Mathieu Garon.
Garon was pulled in favor of Anders Lindback early on in the second period after allowing three goals on 18 shots, but was then re-inserted back between the pipes in the final frame after Lindback sustained a lower body injury and was unable to return.
Joffrey Lupul scored for Toronto, while Dion Phaneuf, Tyler Bozak and Nikolai Kulemin each had second-period goals for the Maple Leafs, helping the team get out to a commanding four-goal lead through the game’s first 27 minutes of action.
It happened, too, in just a span of 29 seconds as the middle frame approached the halfway point.
Bozak was left open in the slot and sent a wrist shot uncontested into an open cage, which ultimately chased Garon from net.
Lindback then entered, but didn’t fare much better, as Kulemin skated in before making a slight hesitation move, cutting back, and shooting a sharp wrist to beat the Lightning net minder on just his first shot faced at 7:22 to cap the sequence.
“We did a good job of wearing them down and capitalizing on the chances we got,” Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson said.
Nazem Kadri added three assists in the win, while Carl Gunnarsson also chipped in a pair of helpers for Toronto.
Gudas finally got the Lightning on the board at 7:44 of the third with a wrist shot that beat James Reimer cleanly, making it 4-1.
At the other end, however, Garon re-entered the game after Lindback suddenly skated off to the bench with what turned out to be a lower body injury.
Lindback turned back seven of eight shots against on the night.
The injury didn’t seem to slow the momentum too much though, at least where the Lightning were concerned, as Conacher brought Tampa Bay to within a pair after streaking through the slot and tapping home a perfect feed from fellow rookie Tyler Johnson.
Reimer made 26 saves in the win for Toronto, which saw its five-game losing streak come to a screeching halt.
Lupul opened the scoring at 6:56 of the first after converting on a tip-in of Kadri’s feed for his third of the year.
“I thought defensively we did okay, but we obviously had a few letdowns which led to one of their goals,” Lightning assistant coach Dan Lacroix said.
Phaneuf then doubled the advantage just 52 seconds into the middle frame after being set up by Gunnarsson and firing a shot that beat Garon to make it 2-0.
Later in the game, the Lightning received a scare less than a minute into the third period when defenseman Victor Hedman was on the receiving end of a high hit from Lupul in the neutral zone. Hedman was forced to briefly exit to the dressing room, but was able to return to the game. Lupul received a two-minute penalty for an illegal check to the head.