TORONTO - The Toronto Maple Leafs, for the most part, outshot, outworked and outhustled the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night yet went unrewarded for their efforts.
Star centre Vincent Lecavalier was the primary reason for that, scoring a pair of highlight-reel goals in a 3-2 victory that showed how a small burst of skill and talent can sometimes be enough to overcome an opponent's determined effort.
"We had plenty of opportunities, a guy like that buries them," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said of Lecavalier. "He's one of the top players in the league, you give him a couple of opportunities he's probably going to score one, you give him three opportunities, he might score two.
"Some of our guys need five opportunities to score one."
The Maple Leafs (3-3-3) didn't lack for opportunity before a crowd of 19,348, sending 39 shots at Mike Smith but ending up with only two goals to show for it. If they had more touch around the net, they probably would have left for Wednesday's game with the New Jersey Devils with a big win under their belts.
Instead, they're not feeling too hot after watching their two-game win streak end, wasting a two-man advantage of 1:11 in the first period and failing to generate enough traffic in front of Smith to make life very hard for him.
"This is a game we easily should have had," said Leafs forward Matt Stajan, who scored his first of the season. "We know we've got to be better, we can't take bits and pieces of nights off, especially on home ice against a team that's been struggling like them."
Jussi Jokinen also scored and 2008 first overall pick Steven Stamkos earned his first NHL point for the Lightning (2-3-3), who have only seven players from last season's roster and are working to jell after a massive off-season makeover.
They picked up just their second win of the season with No. 4 leading the way.
Lecavalier, who had four of his team's 25 shots, put the Lightning up 2-1 at 15:37 of the first period with a goal only a handful players have enough talent to pull off.
Skating through the neutral zone, he dragged his leg at the Leafs blue-line to allow Vaclav Prospal's breakaway pass to slide past him into the zone on-side, and then cut in on Vesa Toskala, tucking an against-stride, one-handed backhander past the helpless netminder.
"It was a perfect pass behind me, which is perfect because it bounced right in front of me," said Lecavalier. "I just went to the net and I wasn't sure if his pad was going to get the puck, but it went."
He extended the lead to 3-1 at 4:08 of the second when he took a pass from Prospal in the slot and made a move before beating Toskala high on a power play. Stamkos, who grew up a Leafs fan in nearby Markham, Ont., earned a second assist to end his point drought.
"He's an immense talent, he's one of the top-10 most talented players in the world," Lightning coach Barry Melrose said of his captain. "People tonight saw that."
Mike Van Ryn also scored for the Maple Leafs, pulling them within a goal on a power play at 13:15 of the second by flipped a shot over a prone Smith. But they could get no closer as Smith stood tall.
Smith made a terrific stop on Alexei Ponikarovsky with five minutes to go and another on John Mitchell, promoted to the second line with Mikhail Grabovski and Niklas Hagman in place of Nikolai Kulemin, with two minutes left. He made 13 saves overall in the third period.
"Obviously we don't have a Vinny Lecavalier," lamented Wilson.
The Lightning led 2-1 after a first period in which both teams squandered long two-man advantages, Tampa Bay failing to capitalize on 1:34.
Jokinen opened the scoring at 5:08, depositing a pretty cross-ice pass from Mark Recchi into an empty net.
Stajan tied the game 1-1 at 7:34 with his first of the season by tipping Nik Antropov's centring pass up in the air and past Smith on a dribble.
"That's a game we should have won," said Hagman. "Our first period was really bad, especially our line, I don't know what kind of hockey we were playing, we just got to stick to the game principle and systems and work a little bit harder. The second we got a little bit and the third we created a lot but just couldn't put it in."
Notes: Stamkos was thrilled to earn his first NHL point in Toronto. "I think it was louder than when the Leafs scored," he said. "It was great to have that fan support." . . . Smith collected an assist on Lecavalier's first-period goal, becoming the fifth goalie this season to pick up a point. . . . Luke Schenn, chosen four spots after Stamkos, played his first game since being told that he'd stay up with the Maple Leafs rather than return to Kelowna of the WHL. He's the first 18-year-old to play for the team since Drake Berehowsky in 1990. . . . Defenceman Jonas Frogren, scratched Saturday to make room for Jeff Finger, was out of the lineup again with Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo.