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Lupul leads Leafs to 7-3 win over Bolts

by Neil Acharya
TORONTO -- Joffrey Lupul had a goal and three assists -- including the 300th point of his career -- as the Toronto Maple Leafs cruised to a 7-3 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night.

In two meetings this season, Toronto has now outscored the Bolts by a margin of 14-4.
Two power-play goals in the third period by Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel capped the offense in a game in which the bulk of the scoring came in a two minute span in the second period that resulted in four goals being netted between the clubs.

Steven Stamkos started the onslaught at 11:55, scoring his League-leading 27th goal of the season.  Martin St. Louis set up the play, pouncing on a pass that was intended for Tim Connolly, but went behind him. St. Louis streaked up the ice to create an odd man rush with the NHL's leading goal scorer.
Stamkos made no mistake putting the puck past Jonas Gustavsson, off the post and in to tie the game at two.

Thirty-three seconds later, Mikhail Grabovski took a long flip pass from Lupul and fired a shot over the shoulder of Mathieu Garon into the top corner for his 11th of the season. The goal temporarily restored Toronto's one-goal lead.
Tampa Bay would tie the game once again when former Leafs defenseman Pavel Kubina blasted a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle through traffic just 58 seconds after Grabovski's goal for his third of the season. However, a Tampa Bay turnover at Toronto's blue line gave the Leafs another scoring chance they would convert on at 13:43. Matt Frattin -- who was celebrating his 24th birthday -- found a wide open Darryl Boyce in front of the net with a pass from the corner. Boyce's first goal of the season put the Leafs back on top 4-3 and prompted Guy Boucher to pull Garon in favor of Dwayne Roloson.

Garon left the game after allowing four goals on 21 shots.

"I blame myself a bit because I wanted to change (Garon) the goal before and I didn't and I didn’t follow my feeling and it wasn't because he was bad on the fourth goal -- it's just I felt it might have been the moment to do so and I didn't do so,"  Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "Even if we would have changed goaltenders four times, it still wouldn't have given us poise with the puck and it certainly wouldn't have given us better zone coverage. We were just awful in coverage and we turned the puck over again like we used to when we weren't playing well on the road. All our diseases came back at the same time."

The second-period scoring did not stop with Boyce's goal. Frattin made his birthday a little bit sweeter with a goal to add to his assist in the final minute of the period. The goal gave the Leafs a 5-3 lead they would take into the second intermission. Frattin buried a rebound from Nazem Kadri's wraparound attempt, which was kicked out by Roloson with his right pad.  Roloson ended the night with three goals allowed on 21 shots.

The Lightning struck first when Vincent Lecavalier opened the scoring just: 58 seconds in, settling down a lively puck through soft coverage in the Leafs' zone before beating Gustavsson.  JT Wyman drew the first assist, sending the puck into the slot from behind the net.

The Leafs tied the game two and a half minutes later when Lupul scored his 18th of the season. Connolly set up the scoring play, circling behind the Tampa Bay net and throwing a pass back across the ice to Lupul, who was unmarked at the faceoff circle to the right of Garon. His quick shot just trickled past the Lightning net minder and he is now just two goals away from reaching the 20-goal plateau for the fourth time in his career and first time since 2008-2009.
"I never thought I would be near the top of the League in scoring, but I thought I could be a successful player that contributes offensively and plays a somewhat physical game and that's been my goal the whole way through -- to keep playing solid hockey," said Lupul, who tied a season high for points in a game and now has 44 points on the season. "Our guys did a great job tonight blocking shots. Our goalie made big saves. We were a little more assertive on our clears when we got those loose pucks and we were making sure they got down the ice. Frattin made a couple of big plays for us in the second period right after they had tied it and he made a really good play on Darryl Boyce's goal, so it's good to see a guy getting an opportunity and stepping up."

Toronto went ahead at 8:46 when Carl Gunnarsson's point shot fooled Garon. Once again, it was Connolly providing the offensive spark as his initial pass from the side boards into the middle of the ice in the Tampa Bay zone intended for Lupul bounced off a Tampa Bay leg back towards its own goal. Lupul got his stick on the puck in at the side of the net, but his scoring attempt went back out through the crease towards the half boards. Connolly was able to secure the puck and send it back to Gunnarsson at the blue line for his second of the year.   

The Leafs' 30th-ranked penalty kill was put to the test, especially with 1:25 to go in the first when Connolly was sent off for high sticking a charging Steve Downie in the neutral zone. The penalty put Toronto down two men as Luke Schenn was already in the box serving a roughing call.

"He's gotta play that style of game. He plays hard," Phaneuf said of Downie, who took 20 minutes in penalties -- including a 10 minute misconduct in the second period. "Our whole group was pretty disciplined and when we did get a penalty we did a really good job of killing it off. We talked lots about wanting to get off on the right foot at home and we will take these points and now we move forward to Thursday."

Toronto killed off all five man advantages the Lightning had on the night.

"Our power play is the worst in the League on the road. We're last and you saw why," Boucher said. "I don't know what happens on the road. We lose all poise. We're fourth in the League at home and last on the road. When you play that bad on the power play, it has a tendency to hurt you on the momentum side. Sometimes I feel like we could have four orange cones against us on the road and we still couldn't manage to get a shot."
Stamkos echoed Boucher's sentiments.

"We didn't play our game from the beginning and it was pretty embarrassing after that," he said. "The amount of urgency we should be showing at this time of the year with the position we are in -- that is definitely not a good effort. Hopefully guys' eyes got opened tonight with our performance."
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