Toronto entered Monday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning surrendering the second-most shot attempts per game (34.4) in the National Hockey League.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper warned his team not to get into a track meet with the high-flying Maple Leafs but encouraged the Bolts to shoot and shoot often.
The Lightning responded, tying a season-high with 41 shots on goal, the last shot proving to be the difference.
Bolts captain Steven Stamkos broke out of a three-game goal drought, scoring the game-winner at 11:05 of the final period to give the Lightning a come-from-behind 3-2 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 19,204 at Amalie Arena.
Tampa Bay (23-11-4, 50 points) finishes its three-game homestand a perfect 3-0-0 and remains in first place in the Atlantic Division.
On the final goal, Lightning defenseman Matt Carle blasted a slap shot from the blue line that was tipped in the slot by the bottom of Stamkos’ blade past Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer, giving the Bolts their first lead of the game.
“(Stamkos) had some really good looks that he missed, and, sure enough, the one he gets is off a great deflection,” Cooper said. “It’s just a matter of time with him. You can’t keep goal scorers down. They eventually get out of whatever’s happening to them. Hopefully, this will be a breakthrough for him because I thought he had a really strong game tonight.”
Carle earned the assist on the game-winning goal.
“Good job by Matty getting the puck through,” Stamkos said.
The Lightning trailed 2-0 after the first period, but Ryan Callahan put the Bolts on the board at 6:37 of the second period, Callahan breaking Tampa Bay’s five-game power play drought with his 12th goal of the season. Following a penalty to Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul for slashing, Stamkos engineered the score, firing a hard slap shot at Reimer (38 saves) from the left wing that ricocheted in the air in front of goal. Callahan, showing his hand-eye coordination, batted the puck out of the air with a well-timed, right-handed swing of his stick to put the Bolts on the board and cut Toronto’s lead to 2-1.
“We’ve got to get to those dirty areas,” Callahan said. “If you look around the NHL, a lot of goals are scored in that blue paint on rebound chances or tip-ins. It’s a big concentration for us to get there, and I thought we did that.”
Stamkos and Victor Hedman assisted on the power-play score. For Callahan, the goal was number 150 in his nine-year NHL career.
“It’s a tough one to get that 150. It took me a little while,” said Callahan, who snapped a 13-game goalless streak of his own. “It’s a nice milestone to hit, and now I have to continue.”
The Lightning improve to 15-0-0 when Callahan scores a goal dating back to last year’s trade.
“I said something to him in practice (Monday) too,” Bishop said. “I told him, ‘Why don’t you score every game?’ He said he’s trying. It’s a good stat to have.”
The Bolts leveled the score three minutes and nine seconds later. Hedman snapped a shot from the right circle into traffic, and the puck redirected off Valtteri Filppula’s skate past Reimer. Filppula was credited with the goal, his seventh of the season. Hedman and Callahan tallied assists.
All three Lightning goals were scored by rebounds on tip-ins at the net.
“That was a big point of emphasis today. If you looked at how Florida came back on them last night, all three of their goals – well, one was an empty-netter – but the three right before that was all traffic in front, net front,” Cooper said, referring to the Leafs 6-4 loss a day earlier to the Panthers after leading 4-2 entering the third. “We made a big deal about that before the game is we’ve got to take away Reimer’s eyes, and I thought we did that tonight…That’s where goals are scored and the more you can do that, the better chance you have to score goals.”
Toronto (20-14-3, 43 points), which entered as the NHL’s top scoring team with 120 goals, tallied two quick scores in the first period to grab an early lead. A beautiful cross-ice pass from Nazem Kadri on the left wing to the back post for Mike Santorelli produced the first goal of the game at 4:28. Santorelli’s wrist shot arced over the left shoulder of Bishop and into goal to give the Maple Leafs a 1-0 lead.
Toronto made it 2-0 a little more than three minutes later, Lupul benefitting from another great feed into the slot to beat Bishop at 7:47. The Leafs set up the goal with a series of rapid-fire passes from Phil Kessel to Tyler Bozak behind the net to Lupul waiting in front.
“It was pretty calm on the bench,” Stamkos said about falling behind 2-0. “Guys were pretty confident in our abilities. I think we showed it tonight with the amount of puck possession we had, the amount of scoring opportunities we had, and we got rewarded.”
Toronto was outshot 15-4 in the first period but scored on half of its four shots.
“If they were up 15-2 in shots I would have been more worried about our effort,” Hedman said.
Bishop made 21 saves to win his second game in a row since returning from injury.
“I thought he stood tall, especially in the end there,” Cooper said.
Tampa Bay outshot Toronto 41-23 overall. The Lightning also recorded 41 shots on goal in the third game of the season versus Montreal.
The Bolts improve to 15-4-1 at Amalie Arena so far in 2014-15.
“We want to make this building tough to play against, which we have over the past few years,” Stamkos said. “We’ve got to take care of business. We have some lengthy road trips this year, so anytime we can get a stretch of two, three, four games at home, we want to take advantage of it.”
The Lightning will play their next four games on the road, starting with Wednesday’s matchup against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center. Six of the Bolts’ next seven games are on the road.