Simon Gagne went from a guy who wasn't even supposed to play to a hero in his first game back from a neck problem.
Gagne had missed 18 games with the injury, but was in the lineup on Tuesday and showed why the Tampa Bay Lightning were so eager to get him as he ripped a wrist shot past Johan Gustavsson for the game-winner 1:15 into overtime, giving the Bolts a 4-3 victory against the Maple Leafs at Toronto.
Gagne said the original plan was to try to return in Boston on Thursday, but that he made the decision to try to play on Monday night after taking part in a full practice earlier in the day.
"I felt good practicing by myself, but with the schedule, I hadn't had any chance to see how I felt practicing with the team," he said. "My first practice with the team was Monday and I felt good, so I said let's give a shot to the game in Toronto."
Neither he nor the Lightning said anything about Gagne's possible return until Tuesday.
"We didn't want say anything before the game, just in case there was a reason I might decide not to play," Gagne said. "I felt so good in practice yesterday that we said let's see how I feel after the morning skate. We kept it secret, but I kind of knew and prepared myself."
Martin St. Louis
tied the game with his second goal of the night, a slap shot through traffic with 8.7 seconds left in regulation and goaltender Dan Ellis on the bench for a sixth attacker. Dominic Moore
won a faceoff in the Toronto zone after Luke Schenn
iced the puck; Moore got the puck back to St. Louis for a slapper from the left point that Jonas Gustavsson
started the winning play by picking off Schenn's pass in the Lightning zone and feeding Gagne to trigger a 2-on-1. Gagne carried into the right circle and zipped a 20-foot wrister than ticked the leg of defenseman Tomas Kaberle and flew past Gustavsson for the victory.
"To help the team win and get the winning goal in overtime -- you can't ask for anything more," Gagne said.
Lightning coach Guy Boucher was asked about keeping Gagne's return under wraps.
"Anything we can do to make sure that the players are able to focus on what they've got to do," said Boucher. "Especially in a situation like this where it's big for him to come back and wonder how it's going to go. I think you keep it down to the smallest expression coming into today (so he can) just think of his game. I think it was really important.
"(It's) pressure off him ... and I think it worked out pretty good."
Gagne's teammates were delighted to have him back.
"It's been really hard," said St. Louis. "He's a battler, he's a guy that wants to be out there and help his team win. It's not only been tough for him, it's been tough for us to not have him. You know what he can bring.
"We're happy to have him back."
The loss spoiled a fine effort by Gustavsson, who stopped 35 shots despite not getting a lot of help from his defense on several occasions.
"We'd love to get him some wins, because he deserves them," center Tim Brant said. "It definitely wasn't his fault. We kind of let it slip away."
The Leafs looked to be in command when Nikolai Kulemin
capitalized on a bad bounce off the boards to put the puck into a wide-open net at 7:23 of the third period for a 3-1 lead. Joey Crabb
's dump-in took an odd bounce off the end boards and kicked back into the slot. Ellis tried to bat it out of harm's way but managed only to deflect it. Kulemin crashed the net and put the puck into the net for his second of the night.
But St. Louis took a pass in front from Steve Downie
, stepped around Gustavsson and scored at 8:25 to make it a one-goal game again.
Kris Versteeg's goal 1:25 into the game gave Toronto a quick lead. He scored after Ellis was unable to handle a bouncing dump-in and then was run into by his own defenseman.
However, the Leafs were upset that the lead wasn't bigger. An apparent goal by Luke Schenn
late in the period was waved off because it was ruled that Clarke MacArthur
had interfered with Ellis in his crease. Coach Ron Wilson didn't agree.
"That should have been a goal," Wilson said. "I think when the referee reviews it himself and he sees it, (he'll agree). ... He told me (MacArthur) was in the crease the whole time and he wasn't. He was pushed into the crease by the defenceman as the puck was entering the net.
tied it at 5:18 of the second period when he banked a power-play pass from behind the net off Gustavsson's skate and into the net after Gagne got him the puck. Kulemin put Toronto back in front at 11:51 with a power-play goal of his own, beating Ellis with a blast from the top of the left circle.
The Leafs did manage to contain NHL goal-scoring leader Steven Stamkos
, who had an assist but was held without a goal for the third consecutive game -- the first time that's happened all season. The Toronto-area native now has 6 goals and 14 points in 10 career games against the Leafs.
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report