Toronto killed off four early Lightning power plays, including a 5-on-3 disadvantage, before an offensive explosion powered the Maple Leafs to a 7-3 victory over Tampa Bay on Tuesday night. Joffrey Lupul
led the way offensively with a goal and three assists as each of the team's four lines chipped in.
But scoring hasn't plagued the sliding Leafs of late, not compared with their inability to kill a penalty. The NHL's worst unit was the focus of a tense practice on Monday and looked much better a night later as the Leafs killed off three first-period minors - drawing cheers from tense fans.
That kept the game close and allowed for the offensive display that followed. Carl Gunnarsson
, Mikhail Grabovski
, Darryl Boyce, Matt Frattin
, Dion Phaneuf
and Phil Kessel
added goals for the Leafs (19-15-5).
Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and Pavel Kubina replied for the Lightning (17-18-3).
It was the beginning of an important stretch that will see the Leafs play nine of 11 games at Air Canada Centre heading into the all-star break. The team has recently fallen out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference and earned valuable points against the Lightning, who are chasing not far behind.
Tampa entered the game on a promising 5-1-1 run and got on the scoreboard early, with Lecavalier finding the puck in traffic and beating Jonas Gustavsson
at 58 seconds. But the Lightning was unable to sustain that momentum after getting thwarted during the man advantage situations and seeing Lupul and Gunnarsson counter for Toronto before the period was out.
A wild second period helped seal the Leafs victory.
Stamkos kicked things off by scoring his league-leading 27th goal to briefly tie it 2-2. But Grabovski and Kubina traded goals in the next 91 seconds and Boyce put Toronto ahead for good just 17 seconds after that.
The fourth liner went hard to the net and lifted a shot over Mathieu Garon at 13:43 of the second period, chasing the Lightning starter in favour of backup Dwayne Roloson.
Roloson didn't fare much better. Frattin made it 5-3 Leafs in the final minutes of the second period before Phaneuf and Kessel each converted on third-period power plays, securing Toronto another rout of Tampa. The Leafs took the first meeting between the teams 7-1 on Nov. 22.
The late scoring barrage also made things easier on Gustavsson, who picked up the victory in his first start since Dec. 17. He finished with 21 saves.
But it was the improved special teams play that allowed it to happen.
Stamkos has 11 goals and 14 points in his last nine games ... Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman missed his third game with a concussion. He isn't travelling with the team ... Frattin celebrated his 24th birthday ... A tribute to Ron Wilson's uncle, Johnny, was played during the first period. The former NHLer died Dec. 27 at age 82 ... Announced attendance was 19,425.