The Lightning outshot and outhustled the Maple Leafs to take a 4-1 verdict at Air Canada Centre on Thursday.
The Leafs were only able to manage Lee Stempniak’s 13th goal of the season. Tampa Bay blew that out of the water thanks to goals by Matt Pettinger, Martin St. Louis, Ryan Malone and the unfortunately-named Paul Szczechura.
Leaf rearguard Ian White put it in perspective. “For the most part we’ve been playing really hard hockey, but some nights it’s kind of collapsed.”
The moment of the collapse wasn’t hard to spot.
Things were actually going quite swimmingly thanks to Stempniak’s game opening-goal but the Lightning were able to spring the nimble St. Louis for a breakaway that goalie Martin Gerber managed to stop.
Rather than shut down the Lightning after that close call, a few seconds later Luke Schenn
turned the puck over to Pettinger who did not miss. At least that’s what the video replay confirmed.
“Eventually, you get a few breakaways you’re going to score on one of them,” said Leafs sniper Jason Blake who has not scored in the five games since his centre Dominic Moore was sent to Buffalo. “We just need a better effort.”
The Leafs flashed greatness, at one point they controlled the puck for 55 seconds on even strength as Mikhail Grabovski
, Stempniak and Blake strafed Tampa goalie Karri Ramo. But after a commercial break, the puck moved to the Leafs side of the ice just in time for St. Louis’ backbreaking one-timer.
The Lightning salted things away in the third when Ryan Malone cradled a short Cory Murphy pass and ripped it past Gerber from a few feet away. The goal came on the power play. Szczechura beat Gerber after another errant Leafs pass put him in the clear with two minutes to play.
The game featured a little drama at the end when the Leafs’ Ben Ondrus objected to Evgeny Artyukhin’s stick being wedged between his legs. Ondrus wanted to fight and pointed at the incident as an example of the league’s misguided attempts to curb violence by reining in fighting.
“All the stickwork is going on. Maybe if someone beats the crap out of him, he doesn’t do it again.”
After arguing his point, Leafs coach Ron Wilson was banished from the bench in the final moments.
“I was upset at the end because they (the officials) allowed a situation to almost escalate out of control. They could have called Artyukhin for interference and the stick between the guy’s legs. They chose not to and it almost resulted in a fight. It almost became a situation that got out of control.”
The Leafs 27-29-23, return to action, Saturday, when they host the Calgary Flames.