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Leafs snap slump by beating Lightning 3-1

by Lonnie Herman
TAMPA -- If the Toronto Maple Leafs could play the Tampa Bay Lightning more often, chances are they would be in the top eight in the Eastern Conference instead of on the fringes of the playoff race.

The Maple Leafs beat the Lightning for the third time in as many games this season as they broke a five-game losing streak with a 3-1 win Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

James Reimer recorded his first win in goal since Feb. 15, stopping 34 shots.

"When you look at our goalie, he was our best player," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said.

Reimer's effort, which included stoning the Lightning on four extra-man opportunities during which the Bolts fired nine shots on net and making a diving cross-crease save on Ryan Malone midway through the final period, drew notice from Tampa Bay as well.

"He was great," Lightning forward Tom Pyatt said. "He made lots of stops and kept them in. We had our chances there, but it wasn't enough."

Toronto had the Lightning in a hole even before many in the sellout crowd of 19,204 had found their seats. Tampa Bay defenseman Brian Lee was whistled for interference just seven seconds into the game and John-Michael Liles made the Lightning pay when he beat rookie goaltender Dustin Tokarski at 1:09. It was the first power-play goal for Toronto in five games.

"We were able to draw a penalty at the seven-second mark, and our power play scored a big goal for us," Carlyle said. "It got things going our way, and we played more of the type of road game that is required."

From that point forward, Tampa Bay fired away at Reimer -- with little result.

"Their goalie played outstanding," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said, "and it's frustrating to get those chances and not score."

Boucher short-circuited one second-period power play by drawing a bench minor for abusive language.

"That was me," Boucher said, after he vehemently protested a non-call after it appeared that Steven Stamkos was tripped by Toronto's David Steckel. "Just watch the replay. We should have had a 5 on 3 for almost a full minute. The score was only 2-0. That could have changed everything.

"I still believe what I saw and I spoke my mind. To me it was a clear penalty. I was just looking at the call that should have been called and could have turned the game around."

Instead, Jake Gardiner scored Toronto's third goal just 34 seconds later for a 3-0 lead.

Joey Crabb also scored for the Maple Leafs earlier in the second period. Both second-period scores were assisted by Matthew Lombardi.

Tokarski was lifted after allowing Toronto's three goals on 10 shots. Dwayne Roloson, in relief, stopped all 18 shots he faced.

Reimer came within 26 seconds of his fourth shutout of the season and seventh of his career, but Martin St. Louis, playing in his 850th career game with the Lightning, beat the goaltender from the right circle. It was his 23rd goal of the season and came with Roloson pulled for an extra attacker.

The Leafs (31-32-8) improved to 2-4-1 since Carlyle replaced Ron Wilson behind the bench on March 2.  The win was their first on their current five-game road trip, which has two games remaining.

Tampa Bay (32-30-7) fell further from post-season contention; the Lightning are seven points out of the final playoff spot with only 12 games remaining. They lead Toronto by a point.

Their task is further complicated by the loss of Nate Thompson, who left the game in the second period with what was termed an upper-body injury and likely will be unavailable for the Lightning's next game, Saturday night against the St. Louis Blues.

"We've been behind the eight-ball since day one," Boucher said. "Now Thompson is injured. It's been like that for a long time."

With less than two minutes remaining in the game, Stamkos and Dion Phaneuf tangled along the boards. The confrontation came moments after Phaneuf had put a hard check on St. Louis.

"He was standing up for his buddy," Boucher said. "He's a warrior that kid, in every way."
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