The Tampa Bay Lightning ran into an angry hockey team at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday.
Toronto had been embarrassed 9-2 at home Tuesday to Nashville. The Maple Leafs had lost three straight, the last two by a combined 15 goals.
Facing Tampa Bay in their first game since that monumental collapse to the Predators, Toronto took out its frustration on the Bolts.
Former Lightning forward Richard Panik scored the go-ahead goal, and Toronto asserted itself in the second, putting three pucks into the net during the period to beat the Bolts 5-2.
“I think [execution] would probably be the word of the day,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “…We executed like it was the first day of training camp.”
The loss is the second in a row for Tampa Bay (13-6-2, 28 points) by that 5-2 score and fourth defeat in six games.
“One thing all year, we’ve been a team that’s answered,” Cooper said. “We’ve answered the bell after a loss. Clearly, we didn’t answer the ball today. It was frustrating.”
Panik was placed on waivers a day before the start of the regular season. He was claimed by Toronto and has been a welcome addition to the Leafs.
Friday, he made the Bolts regret their decision, at least for a day.
Panik took advantage of a giveaway by Matt Carle behind his own goal to shoot past Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop 2:45 into the second period.
Carle attempted to send a flip pass toward center ice, but Panik snared the puck out of the air, placed it at his feet and faked a shot with his forehand before backhanding a shot into the net.
The Lightning gave up the game’s first goal 1:29 into the game and appeared to be in more trouble when the Leafs drew back-to-back penalties for 51 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage. The Bolts killed off the first penalty to Radko Gudas (tripping), however, and still down a man (Brian Boyle, high-sticking), Alex Killorn scored for the third game in a row to tie the game 1-1. Killorn stole a pass in the neutral zone and skated down the right wing with the Leafs Jake Gardiner in front. The Halifax native wristed a shot through Gardiner’s legs using the defenseman as a screen, catching Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier unaware to score his fifth goal of the season.
The short-handed, unassisted score coming with 1:10 left in the opening period.
“We got the shorty, but we didn’t play well in the first period,” Cooper said. “We couldn’t make a 10-foot pass. We couldn’t break it out. We play a speed game. That’s what puts teams on their heels, and we were in quicksand all night. When you’re playing slow and you’re not executing, we’re in trouble and that’s what happened tonight.”
After Panik answered for the Leafs quickly in the second period, Toronto (10-8-2, 22 points) took control using a pair of goals by James van Riemsdyk.
On an odd-man rush, van Riemsdyk rifled a wrist shot over Bishop glove side from the left wing to give the Leafs a two-goal advantage at the 12:31 mark of the second.
Less than three minutes later, van Riemsdyk netted a power-play goal to make it 4-1 Leafs. Phil Kessel’s shot was turned away by Bishop, but van Riemsdyk was on the doorstep for the rebound and patiently picked his spot past the Lightning goalie with nobody from Tampa Bay around to disrupt him.
For the second straight game, the Lightning gave up three second period goals.
Steven Stamkos scored his team-leading 13th goal of the season late in the game with the Bolts net empty to draw Tampa Bay within two.
Stamkos’ initial one-timer was stopped by Bernier (26 saves), but the Lightning captain jammed home the rebound, with Nikita Kucherov picking up his 11th assist on the score.
Toronto sealed the game in the final minute, however, Roman Polak scoring on the empty net.
“In this league, it’s not how many you score, it’s how many you keep out of the net and we’ve been having an issue with that,” Cooper said. “I don’t know, I didn’t look at the scoring chances, what they were tonight, but I guarantee you the Leafs had under 10. For them to put up, I know they put up five, but four with a goalie in the net, that’s not good enough. You’re not going to win in this league when you’re giving up goals like that.
“It starts from our end and we’ve got to work out from there. Right now, we’re thinking about the wrong net, and that’s an issue for us.”
David Clarkson tallied less than 90 seconds after the opening puck drop to put the Maple Leafs ahead 1-0. From behind the net, Daniel Winnik found Clarkson alone in front, and Clarkson one-timed a shot from the slot into goal.
“We just didn’t answer the bell on the stage that I really thought we were going to,” Cooper said.
Bishop, who made saves on 16-of-20 shots, fell to 11-3-2 on the season.
The Lightning outshot the Leafs 28-21.
Tampa Bay loses consecutive games in regulation for the first time all season.
With Montreal winning Thursday, the Bolts fall three points behind the Canadiens for the Atlantic Division lead.
Tampa Bay returns home for a rematch with the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. Puck drops at 7 p.m. (ET), and the Bolts will wear their black third jerseys. The Wild handed the Lightning their worst loss of the season, a 7-2 defeat in Minnesota on October 25.
“Minnesota tossed us around last time we were there,” Cooper said. “But, it doesn’t really matter if we’re playing Minnesota or Toronto or whoever is up next after that, you’ve got to play everybody.”