Dion Phaneuf gave the sellout crowd at Air Canada Centre something to smile about entering the summer following a seventh straight non-playoff season.
Phaneuf's goal with 59 seconds left in overtime gave the Toronto Maple Leafs a 3-2 victory against Tampa Bay on Thursday night and a sweep of their four-game season series. Phaneuf won it when he fired the rebound of Phil Kessel's shot off the backboards past a helpless Dwayne Roloson for his 11th goal of the season.
"All our focus was on tonight and winning tonight's game at home in front of our fans," said Phaneuf, who took a lot of heat during the second half of the season as the Leafs slid out of playoff contention.
Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle spoke highly of his captain.
"He plays his [butt] off for the hockey club -- stands up and challenges and plays the game the way we'd like all of our players to play, and yet there is criticism that is delivered his way because of the situation," Carlyle said. "That 'C' gets pretty heavy some nights -- your leadership has to not come from just one individual, it has to come from a group."
Phaneuf's winner was a bad break for Roloson who made several spectacular saves throughout the evening.
"It's unfortunate that it ended like that. The guys played great; we had a lot of quality chances," the 42-year old said after stopping 28 shots.
Lightning coach Guy Boucher addressed questions about whether this may have been Roloson's final game.
"He is going to be playing in Winnipeg [on Saturday], so it wasn't his last one," Boucher said. "When you get to the end, whether this year is the end or next year is the end, you want to leave a positive note -- and he certainly left a positive note tonight."
Not lost on the night was that Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos moved within one of reaching the 60-goal mark when he gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead at 8:48 of the third period. Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner forced overtime when he scored an unassisted goal with 2:55 remaining in regulation.
Stamkos, a Toronto-area native with plenty of friends and family at Air Canada Centre, got No. 59 when he took Bruno Gervais' cross-crease pass and whipped it behind goaltender Ben Scrivens.
"Anytime you come play back in your home city, it's always fun, you always get up for that game," Stamkos said. "I had my chances tonight, it's one of those nights where I didn't think one was gonna' go in, but it was nice to get one."
Gardiner tied it on a rush that started at deep in his own zone and ended when he sent the puck into the crease as he was circling behind the Lightning goal. The puck hit a Brett Connolly and slipped past Roloson.
Martin St. Louis, who had the second assist on Stamkos' goal, opened the scoring at 5:49 of the opening period with his 25th of the season. He took a centering pass in the slot from Brian Lee who was close to the side boards in the Leafs zone and fired a shot that caromed into the net. Initially, it looked as though the goal might be credited to Stamkos, who was in front when the puck caromed in. However, it was awarded to St. Louis, who now has 25 or more goals in nine consecutive seasons.
Toronto tied it just 43 seconds later, as Tim Connolly scored his 13th -- matching his output of last season with Buffalo. He was set up by Gardiner, who was able to cruise in on Roloson before sending the puck to Connolly past Brendan Mikkelson, the lone Lightning defender.
Stamkos had a chance on a breakaway five minutes into the second but fired high while trying to hit the top corner over Scrivens' glove hand. He had a pair of chances from close range midway through the period, but Scrivens stopped his forehand shot and denied him again on a backhander .In total Stamkos rifled a whopping total of nine shots on goal
"Every time you get a scoring chance you want to score, no matter what the number and I had quite a few tonight so it was nice to see one go in," said Stamkos who has a last chance to get his 60th goal when the Lightning finish their season in Winnipeg on Saturday. "I know if I do score it's going to be a big one. I just have to go out and play my game and try not to force things. It's trying to keep the same game plan that you have had through the first 80 games, that's obviously worked."
If Stamkos reaches the 60-goal plateau, he will be the first player to do so since Alex Ovechkin netted 65 in 2007-08.
Scrivens finished with 35 saves and is 2-0-1 since being recalled from the AHL Toronto Marlies last Saturday.