Behind one of their best offensive outputs of the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight, 6-4, at the St. Pete Times Forum.
After a disappointing loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday, Tampa Bay Lightning interim coach Rick Tocchet challenged his team to pick up their effort and looked to the core of the team to especially step up and lead the way.
And it didn’t take long for the core to respond.
Martin St. Louis generated the first two shots on the Toronto net to start the game, and although Toronto got the first goal of the game, an unassisted score by Lee Stempniak off a Lightning turnover at 10:58, that lead would only stand for 92 seconds before St. Louis and company took control of the period.
After St. Louis’s partial breakaway attempt was stopped by Maple Leaf netminder Vesa Toskala, St. Louis kept skating, picking up the puck in the corner to Toskala’s right and sending a pass out to defenseman Lukas Krajicek at the left point. Krajicek’s shot, partially screened by St. Louis as he cut through the slot in front of the net, was deflected by Ryan Malone past Toskala for the tying goal at 12:30. The goal was Malones’s 17th of the season and both Krajicek and St. Louis earned assists.
Tampa Bay was back on the scoreboard just 56 seconds later when Ryan Malone got his 18th goal of the season and his second of the game, a wrist shot that found the twine to Toskala’s right. St. Louis collected his second assist of the night on the play and Matt Smaby also got credit for an assist.
After two quick goals by the Lightning, the Maple Leafs likely would have preferred to stay out of the penalty box, but that wasn’t the case as defenseman Ian White was whistled for interference and, sixty-one seconds later, Pavel Kubina joined him in the box for delay of game.
Just fifteen seconds into the two-man advantage, Mark Recchi gathered a pass from Vincent Lecavalier and his shot from the high slot found the back of the net. The goal, which opened the Lightning lead to two goals over Toronto, was Recchi’s 12th of the season. In addition to Lecavalier, St. Louis picked up his third assist on the night on the power play goal.
St. Louis wasn’t through yet, however. Still skating with a man advantage, the Lightning’s leading scorer took a pass from Recchi in the neutral zone and turned on the jets to split the defense before backhanding a shot over Toskala’s shoulder.
The goal was St. Louis’s 20th of the season and his fourth point of the opening period, all within four minutes and thirteen seconds. The four points tied a Lightning record for most points in a period and established the mark for most points in a period for this season.
“I like to think that in every game I play I’ll get going,” St. Louis said. “I felt good tonight. Every time I touched the puck something good happened.”
The goal chased Toskala, who allowed 4 goals in 12 shots. He was relieved by Curtis Joseph with 3:17 remaining in the opening stanza.
After a frantic opening stanza, the second period promised some relative calm, and delivered on that promise, until Lightning defenseman Marek Malik was sent off the ice for interference at 10:39 and the ice seemed to tilt Toronto’s way.
Skating on the power play, Toronto began to crawl back into the game when Stempniak got his second goal of the game, a shot from the left point that beat Tampa Bay netminder Mike McKenna, starting his fourth consecutive game, to the short-side of the net.
Just over a minute later the Maple Leafs closed the gap to one goal when Toronto forward Niklas Hagman deked his way in alone in front of the Lightning net and fired the puck past McKenna.
Toronto’s leading goal scorer, Jason Blake, almost completed the comeback with just over two minutes remaining in the period, but his breakaway attempt was blocked by McKenna.
Tampa Bay withstood the Maple Leaf second period surge and went on to create some excitement of their own in the final period.
The Lightning re-opened a two-goal advantage and gave themselves some breathing room, when Steven Stamkos took a pass from Prospal in the neutral zone and blasted the puck past Joseph from the high slot at 6:01.
“I kind of used the defenseman as a screen, Stamkos explained. “Joseph didn’t see it too well and it was a relief for me – I had a couple of chances in the game and it was nice to finally get one.”
The goal was number seven on the season for Stamkos and extended his scoring streak to three games. In addition to Prospal, Steve Eminger also got an assist on the score, the third goal of four opportunities with the man-advantage for the Lightning.
Vincent Lecavalier put the Bolts up by three goals when he beat Joseph on a wraparound at 13:28. Newcomer defenseman Josef Melichar got his first assist as a member of the Lightning and defenseman Corey Murphy also got a point on the goal.
Toronto got one goal back with just over 2 minutes remaining when Nikolai Kulemin, standing alone in front of the Lightning goal, tapped in a cross-ice centering pass.
But that was as close as Toronto could come, as the Lightning stayed back and protected McKenna for the rest of the way.
Tampa Bay finished with 31 shots on net to 25 for Toronto. 19 of those shots came from three players; St. Louis with a team-high seven, and Lecavalier and Stamkos with six each.
Rick Tocchet was pleased that his core players responded.
“St. Louis played that first period as good as I’ve seen any player in the NHL play,” Tocchet said. “He definitely willed the team to win that game.”
If willing the win to happen helps, with the powerful Washington Capitals on the docket for Saturday and a tough playoff race looming, there’s lots more that needs to be willed coming up.
1 - 0 TOR
Martin St. Louis
1 - 1 Tie
Martin St. Louis
2 - 1 TBL
Martin St. Louis
3 - 1 TBL
Martin St. Louis
4 - 1 TBL
4 - 2 TBL
4 - 3 TBL
5 - 3 TBL
6 - 3 TBL