Ben Bishop left the game after making a glove save 5:43 into the first period and didn't return, but backup Anders Lindback stopped all 25 shots he faced in a 3-0 victory. Bishop landed on his left side and wrist and was helped to the dressing room in obvious discomfort. The Lightning said he sustained an upper-body injury.
Coach Jon Cooper wasn't sure about the severity of Bishop's injury, but he expressed confidence in Lindback's ability to carry the team.
"When Bishop went down, nobody flinched," Cooper said. "Actually, I think we got up a little bit on the bench. There was no panic by our guys. They know how hard Lindback has worked. It's his turn."
Still, Cooper has said all season that the play of Bishop is the primary reason that the team is back in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2011. With an immediate future that might not include Bishop, where does that leave Tampa Bay?
"I guess we are going to find out," said Cooper, who added that Lindback will play as scheduled against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. "Let's just wait and see what happens here. No sense in speculating. He's either going to be ready to go or he's not. I'm really confident in what we have, especially after watching the performance tonight."
Lindback will go into that game off perhaps his best performance of the season.
"When I saw Bishop go down, first you wonder if he is OK," Lindback said. "I try to have the same routines every day, so I try to put the switch on fast. You can't think too much, you just have to go in and play."
And play he did. AfterBishop made three saves, Lindback was perfect the rest of the way to earn his sixth victory of the season and his first since Jan. 11 against the Flyers.
"I've been feeling confident all season," Lindback said. "Maybe my game was lacking a couple of details here and there, but today it all worked out."
Very little has worked out for the Maple Leafs in the past few weeks.
Toronto had the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference on March 15, one day before it began an eight-game slide by losing to the Washington Capitals. The loss to the Lightning was the Maple Leafs' 10th in 12 games.
"We went through an eight-game stretch where we couldn't get a win and we couldn't grab traction at a very critical time," Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf said. "That's where things went wrong for our team."
Coach Randy Carlyle couldn't believe his team could fall so far so fast.
"Shock might be the words to describe it," Carlyle said. "Extremely disappointed. Shallow, embarrassed, all those things. I think we have more than we were able to accomplish, and that's the most troubling issue here. We didn't find a way to compete and execute to a level that was necessary. Even in tonight's hockey game, when we have three power plays and we didn't generate anything on it, the frustration level goes up in those situations. Why is that happening right now? That's the mind-boggling thing."
He had no answers for his team's collapse.
"That seems like a long time ago and it's been a lot of turmoil and a lot of stress around us since that time," Carlyle said of the loss to Washington that began the slump. "We don't have the answers right now as to why it happened that way. We're all responsible, and we win or lose as a team. Basically that is how we will approach it now."
The Lightning moved within two points of the Montreal Canadiens in the race for second place in the Atlantic Division. Each team has three games remaining. The winner will have the home-ice advantage when the teams meet in the first round of the playoffs.
Tampa Bay rookie Ondrej Palat scored his 21st and 22nd goals of the season in the second period to put the Lightning ahead 2-0.
He opened the scoring at 9:19 when he carried the puck into the Toronto zone, skated across into the high slot and fired a quick shot that went over James Reimer's left shoulder.
His second goal came at 15:45 , seven seconds into Tampa Bay's only power-play opportunity of the game. With Troy Bodie off for tripping, Steven Stamkos sent a shot wide of the net. But the puck bounced off the boards and came right to Palat, stationed to the left of the net, who fired it home.
Victor Hedman, who assisted on both of Palat's goals, hit the empty net for his 13th goal of the season.
"We needed to be there for Lindback," Hedman said. "He hasn't played a whole lot, so we made sure that we were there for him and played great defense."
Toronto's best scoring chance came early in the second period when Phil Kessel took a cross-ice pass but fired wide.
Tampa Bay defenseman Sami Salo left the game early in the second period and did not return. The Lightning did not say why Salo did not play after leaving the ice 3:16 into the middle period.
|Matthew Carle Tripping against Tim Gleason|
|Andrej Sustr Hi-sticking against Troy Bodie|
|Alex Killorn Hooking against Nazem Kadri|
|Troy Bodie Tripping against Steven Stamkos|