After a full week off, the Maple Leafs returned to action Tuesday at Air Canada Centre – and despite digging themselves some holes, they showed a now-familiar resilience before falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-4 in overtime. And one Leafs line in particular did the lion’s share of the work on offense.
Centre Tyler Bozak – with his 100th career regular-season marker – James van Riemsdyk (with his ninth of the year), Morgan Rielly (with his fourth) and Daniel Winnik (with his third) scored for the Leafs, whose record fell to 10-13-6. But Bozak’s line – including van Riemsdyk and winger P-A Parenteau – finished the night with six points and set the tone up front for the Buds.
Still, Leafs players and coaches lamented a lost chance to boost their win streak to three games.
“Anytime you get four (goals), you have more than enough to win,” said Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. “Lots of nights we haven’t had run support. We had run support tonight, we were unable to get it done. To me, most of the time we haven’t given up that much, but we haven’t been able to generate enough to score, or when we generate, we don’t finish. Tonight we finished, (but) I would’ve liked to have seen us get a better result.”
“That’s been a huge difference in this year than in years past – we don’t really stop playing no matter what the score is,” added van Riemsdyk. “We were lucky enough to be able to salvage that point there after going down late in the third, and that’s maybe one positive. But we definitely didn’t play a good enough game tonight.”
Although the Lightning scored the first goal of the night, the Leafs outshout Tampa Bay 16-4 in the first period and Toronto roared back with three consecutive goals. However, a Bolts goal from Anton Stralman with 36 seconds left in the second period pulled the visitors within a goal, and Tampa Bay scored two goals 36 seconds apart early in the third to regain the lead. But even then, the Leafs refused to wilt, and Winnik’s goal with 6:32 left in regulation time tied the game.
Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier stopped 22 of 27 Tampa shots in his first taste of action since Nov. 28, while defenseman Frankie Corrado played 8:10 in his regular-season debut as a Leaf. And though Babcock was pleased with some elements of his team’s effort, he pointed to Tampa’s late-second-period goal as an especially eventful error.
“You’re not going to want to give up as many as we did,” Babcock said. “We had enough – we were up 3-1…I didn’t like to see us give up that goal going into the third. To me, we should’ve been able to look after the puck better in that situation.”
For the 22-year-old Corrado – a Toronto native who had many friends and family in attendance – his first game in a Leafs uniform didn’t go perfectly, but he still cherished the experience.
“Obviously we’d like to get the win, but it was a dream come true to put the Maple Leaf on and play in front of so many friends and family,” said Corrado, who had been a healthy scratch since the Leafs picked him up on waivers from Vancouver in early October. “There’s not too many words to describe it. It was a great feeling to be out there and back in game action.”
Babcock liked what he saw out of the young blueliner.
“He didn’t play a ton, he played his off-side, and he still played with confidence,” Babcock said. “He wasn’t afraid to be out there, wasn’t shy of the situation, (I) thought he skated good. I liked him.”
That said, Toronto had Tampa Bay on the run for the better part of the first 40 minutes, and the final 20 was not their best effort of the year. That’s something that will need to improve when the Leafs take on San Jose Thursday at the ACC.
“We’re getting better at coming back,” said Bozak. “(But) we never should’ve gave up the lead we had. They played last night and we were rested. We shouldn’t have had to fight back during the third, but it was nice we were able to do that and get a point. Should’ve had two, though.”