Video: TOR@TBL: Polak beats Vasilevskiy from the blue line
1. Polak gets rare-but-crucial goal to put Toronto on top midway through first. Defenceman Roman Polak is a key contributor and a veteran presence on a young Leafs team, but his impact normally comes through his physicality and penalty-killing. However, he contributed in a different way at the 9:19 mark of the opening period when he beat Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to register his fourth goal of the season and put the Leafs ahead 1-0.
The 30-year-old Polak's career high in goals came with Toronto in the 2014-15 campaign when he netted five in 56 games, but he wasn't concerned with personal bests Thursday. Far more important was giving his team an advantage in a crucial contest against a Tampa Bay squad that had won four straight games entering the evening. And though the Leafs were outshot in the period 7-5, Polak's goal was the only goal of the first frame, and set the stage for a burst of Buds offence in the second.
Video: TOR@TBL: Rielly tallies with wrister through traffic
2. Rielly adds to Leafs lead early in second, and Martin follows up with more offence ten seconds later. The Leafs received more offence from their blueline, building a 2-0 lead on D-man Morgan Rielly's point shot that beat Vasilevskiy between the legs at 2:24 for his fifth goal of the year (and second in his past three games). And just 10 seconds later, Toronto got another one by Vasilevskiy when winger Matt Martin batted in a rebound for his fifth of the season.
The Buds outshot the Bolts 10-1 to start the period, and although they'd take their foot off the pedal in the second half of the frame, they were focused and sharp when they needed to be and carved out a commanding lead on a night they needed it.
Video: TOR@TBL: Brown slams Komarov's feed into the cage
3. Brown, van Riemsdyk net goals to boost Buds' advantage, chase Vasilevskiy from net. Not satisfied with their three-goal lead, the Leafs continued pushing against Tampa Bay and were rewarded for it: winger Connor Brown scored a power play marker (and his 16th of the year) at 6:14 of the second, and winger James van Riemsdyk added his 22nd of the season at the 15:41 mark to make it 5-0 for the visitors.
Brown's goal spelled the end of the evening for Vasilevskiy, who allowed four goals on 15 Leafs shots before being replaced by Peter Budaj. The change in netminders did shake up the Lightning somewhat, as they played the second half of the middle frame with more vigour and wound up being tied with Toronto in shots (14-14) at the end of the period. However, the Leafs did well at producing offence and rebounding from their previous effort in Florida two nights earlier. They were confident and crisp in their playmaking, and didn't stop attacking the net for the entire first half of Thursday's game.
Video: TOR@TBL: Andersen denies Point with his right pad
4. Andersen steps up with another stellar showing between the pipes. Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen has been one of the franchise's most valuable players this season, and the veteran stepped up in a major way on this night: he stopped 33 Bolts shots through 60 minutes and was Toronto's best penalty killer in preventing the Lightning from scoring on any of their five man-advantages and building any degree of momentum.
Andersen's calm nature was apparent throughout the game, and he was particularly good late in the second - when Tampa Bay had a 5-on-3 power play for 1:11 - and early in the third, when the Lightning received two more power plays (and their fifth power play in a row). He delivered exactly what was asked of him in recording his fourth shutout of the season and 10th of his career. In fact, you couldn't ask for more.
5. Roller coaster road trip ends on high note, but Leafs can't afford to dwell on anything as big home showdown with Hawks looms. Toronto finished their three-game road trip with two wins and have four victories in their past five games, but despite vaulting over the Lightning (and the New York Islanders, who fell to Winnipeg Thursday and have played one more game than the Buds), the Leafs can't take any time to reflect on the positives or negatives. They've got two huge games at Air Canada Centre - against the powerful Chicago Blackhawks Saturday, and against the division-rival Boston Bruins Monday - that require their urgent attention and their best effort if they're to keep up the pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
It certainly was great to see the Leafs' offence raring against Tampa Bay - whom Toronto will square off against one more time in the regular season when the Bolts visit the ACC April 6 in what could be another game with massive post-season implications - but head coach Mike Babcock has been terrific at getting his group to not get too overwhelmed either way about previous results, and that will need to happen for them if they're to compete well against two formidable opponents this week.