The Maple Leafs outclassed the Lightning in the first period of their matchup in Toronto. And they held off the Bolts' push back over the final two periods behind a superb effort in net by Frederik Andersen coupled with superior special teams play in a 2-1 win at Scotiabank Arena.
The Leafs have now taken the last two meetings in the regular season series against the Bolts with one game left to play March 25 at AMALIE Arena.
Tampa Bay limped home from a three-game road trip that showed so much promise at the beginning, the Lightning going 1-1-1 following a shootout loss Sunday to Detroit, the last-place team in the NHL, and Tuesday's head-scratching result.
"It's a little disappointing in the sense that we had a really good start to this road trip and we slowly let it slide," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.
Tampa Bay has a day off to regroup before getting back on the ice Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers, the start of three-straight games at home for the Lightning.
Here's why the Bolts are coming home from the road unhappy.
Video: Jon Cooper on the loss to the Leafs
Jon Cooper didn't mince words when it came to the effort his team gave in the first period versus Toronto.
"During the course of a year, 82 games, three periods a game, a lot of periods of hockey, for the most part we liked a lot of the ones, small amount that we could have been better and then there's a couple that are embarrassing and that would fall under embarrassing," he said.
Tampa Bay's start was eerily reminiscent of a home game earlier this season December 28 against Montreal when the Canadiens reeled off 17 shots on goal before registering its first, the Lightning falling behind 2-0.
In that game, the Lightning were able to get a late first-period goal to climb back in the game and eventually took control, winning 5-4.
The Bolts weren't as fortunate in Toronto.
The Maple Leafs possessed the puck inside the offensive zone for large stretches of time while the Lightning saw the puck come out of their offensive zone almost as fast as it went in. The Leafs opened up an 11-0 advantage in shots to begin the game and went into the first intermission up 17-6 on the shot counter.
They also had a 1-0 lead courtesy of William Nylander's power-play goal.
"If you're not going to compete hard and be physical and do the things to have success, you're going to chase a team like that around the rink all night and that's what you're going to see in the first period," Cooper said.
Tampa Bay's starts have been an issue of late, the Lightning continually finding themselves chasing the game. It's an issue that needs to get corrected or more results like Tuesday's in Toronto could follow.
The Bolts expected to play a desperate Leafs team. Toronto held just a one-point lead over Florida for third place in the Atlantic Division and an automatic postseason spot entering Tuesday's contest. The Leafs need every point they can get at this juncture of the season.
Meanwhile, the Lightning are comfortably in second place, and it would take an epic collapse for them to miss the playoffs.
Still, playing under the spotlight of the Canadian media against a team they might face in an opening round playoff series, one expected more from the Lightning.
"You could tell right from the beginning they were playing desperate hockey," Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. "They were playing physical, and it just wasn't there from the start for us."
Video: TBL@TOR: Palat cleans up in front to knot the score
2. WELL, WELL, WELL, HOW THE TURNTABLES
As poorly as the Lightning played in the first period, their turnaround in the second was just as remarkable.
They were the team keeping possession of the puck.
They were the team keeping the opponent away from their net
And they were the team keeping constant pressure on the goal, culminating when Ondrej Palat followed up the rebound from Nikita Kucherov's saved shot to level the score 1-1 at 15:22 of the second period.
"We played our systems well the rest of the game," Lightning center Brayden Point said. "We had gaps, our D and our forwards skating back. I think when we're skating, matching their speed, that's when we're at our best. I think that was a big part of why were able to come back in that game."
In the second period, the Lightning held a sizable shot advantage, putting 15 pucks on net to the Leafs' five. Through two periods, the total shots were 22-21, the Lightning narrowing the gap considerably after the poor first period.
"I think in the second period, we kind of figured out our game," Killorn said.
The disappointing aspect of the second period for the Bolts was that if they'd just started the game that way, they'd probably be leaving Toronto with two points.
"We came out with a little bit more fire in the second to pull us back into the fight, but you're turning a game into a 40-minute game," Cooper said.
Video: Alex Killorn | Postgame at TOR
3. SPECIAL TEAMS LETDOWN
Two weeks ago in a 4-2 home loss to the Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay gave up a pair of power-play goals, including the game-winner, Jon Cooper lamenting after the game special teams was the difference.
And in Toronto's win Tuesday at Scotiabank arena, special teams again take the blame for the Lightning coming home empty.
Nylander netted a power-play goal in the first period, scoring just six seconds into Toronto's second power play of the game. Early in the third, the Leafs again made a power play count, Auston Matthews slamming home a one-timer after Mitchell Marner threaded a cross-crease pass to him on a play Andrei Vasilevskiy could do nothing about.
"That's two games in a row now special teams let us down against them," Cooper said.
The Lightning power play took a hit against Toronto too. Entering Tuesday's contest with a power-play goal in three-straight games, Tampa Bay's power play saw that streak end in a 0-for-4 performance
"We had a pretty good streak going on the PP there," Point said. "PK was rolling. It's a talented group on their end. They make plays. It's a special teams battle that we lose and it cost us the game tonight. It sucks, but we've got to look at it, learn from it and move forward."
Matthews' power-play goal held up as the game winner. Tampa Bay has allowed four power-play goals over the last three games.
The Lightning lost for just the second time this season when holding an opponent to two or less goals, falling to 28-2-0.
"We allowed another power-play goal and it ends up hurting us," Killorn said.