TORONTO -- Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos made his return home an impressive one.
Stamkos scored a natural hat trick to lead the Lightning to a 5-3 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on Wednesday.
"That felt great," Stamkos said. "We were kind of joking about it before the game that I didn't think I had a multigoal game here in Toronto, so I was due. I'm obviously pretty excited to do it in front of friends and family. I was a little disappointed there were no hats on the ice, but I'll take it anyway."
Stamkos, a native of nearby Markham, Ontario, scored what proved to be the game-winning goal and completed his hat trick at 5:55 of the second period. He put the rebound of a Ryan Malone deflection of Eric Brewer's backhand shot past Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer.
"There are some special players out there that just find a way. They have that innate ability to rise to the occasion," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "For [Stamkos] to come back in here to his hometown and do what he did tonight, he basically put the team on his shoulders."
Ben Bishop made 36 saves, 21 in the third period, for the Lightning, who have won four in a row. Reimer stopped 25 shots for the Maple Leafs, who have lost three straight.
"We were real close in the standings and you'd like to win this one to put yourself up a point or two points or whatever it was," Reimer said. "It wasn't the case."
The win gave Tampa Bay 83 points, the same as the Montreal Canadiens; the Lightning hold second place in the Atlantic Division because they have a game in hand. Toronto stayed at 80 points and holds the first Eastern Conference wild-card position in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Every win is huge now, but when you're in a situation like we are with how tight it is, especially with Montreal and Toronto… we have to take advantage of the games in hand that we have, especially when you're playing head-to-head," Stamkos said. "Those are four-point games, so we'll gladly take it."
Maple Leafs defenseman Paul Ranger was taken off the ice on a stretcher late in the first period after being boarded by Lightning forward Alex Killorn. Ranger was stable, conscious and alert at a hospital, where he was taken for a precautionary assessment.
"It's one of those textbook hitting from behind. That's what it looked like," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "But I didn't really get a look if he turned into him or if the puck bobbled in his feet or any of that; I didn't really get a look to that. I was just more interested in seeing the well-being of the player, and that was it."
Ranger remained face down on the ice after the hit, which came with 4.1 seconds left in the period. Killorn was given a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct.
"Pretty unfortunate," Killorn said. "Happy that he is OK, I heard through the PR and stuff that he is doing all right now. It's kind of a scary moment, one of those plays where I commit to hit someone without knowing if they are going to turn, so it's just an unfortunate play."
Stamkos scored a power-play goal at 13:22 of the first period to tie the game 2-2, then put the Lightning ahead to stay at 15:39. His hat-trick goal gave the Lightning a 4-2 lead.
Stamkos has 19 goals this season, including five since returning on March 6 after being sidelined by a broken right tibia he sustained Nov. 11.
"The area in which Stamkos scored his goals, obviously you don't want to give anybody -- and specifically anybody of that skillset -- that kind of space in that area," Carlyle said.
Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner scored his 10th goal of the season at 8:02 of the third period to make it 4-3. Gardiner circled the net after taking a pass from Cody Franson, skated out by the side of the net, and fired a wrist shot past Bishop.
"They're as desperate as we are, and you never want to change the way you play, because you got the lead for a reason playing a certain way," Cooper said of the third period. "I think our guys got a little defensive in some situations where we could've had a little bit of poise under pressure. It's another situation where we bent a little bit but we didn't break."
Tyler Johnson restored Tampa Bay's two-goal lead with 7:04 left with a power-play goal. His 22nd goal of the season came after Maple Leafs forward Jay McClement was called for high sticking.
"It's always better to have a two-goal lead instead of one," Johnson said. "It's nice for us to be able to get that. It was nice that our [power play] was able to get one there too. I thought special teams was huge the entire game."
Defenseman Radko Gudas gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead 59 seconds into the first period. Valtteri Filppula won a faceoff back to Gudas, who sent a low wrist shot through a crowd of players and past Reimer for his third goal of the season.
"I just didn't see the puck," Reimer said. "One of those plays where it kind of went behind a big scrum, and I tried to get low and look through legs and I was just kind of looking at the wrong spot and I just saw it at the last second and it went off my toe (of the glove) and off the post and in. It's a [bad] way to start the game, but it just went in somehow."
Toronto's Phil Kessel tied the game 1-1 at 3:31 with his 35th goal of the season. He was alone to the right of Bishop when a shot from James van Riemsdyk redirected off defenseman Carl Gunnarsson to Kessel.
Nikolai Kulemin gave the Maple Leafs a 2-1 lead at 10:32 when he redirected a pass from Gleason past Bishop. Kulemin was parked in the faceoff circle when Gleason sent a slap pass to Kulemin, whose redirection went between Bishop's legs for his ninth goal of the season.