So much for momentum, and so much for trending upward.
Tampa Bay came out flat and was flattened Wednesday by the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 4-2 loss at the Air Canada Centre.
Dion Phaneuf, Tyler Bozak and Nikolai Kulemin all scored goals in the second period to break open a one-goal game and cruised for the rest of the game preventing Tampa Bay from winning three consecutive games for the first time since the opening two weeks of the season. The Leafs, meanwhile, snapped a five-game winless stretch as James Reimer came up with 26 saves.
Joffrey Lupul also scored for Toronto.
Rookie defenseman Radko Gudas scored his first career goal for Tampa Bay while Cory Conacher notched a late third-period goal in his first game NHL game in Toronto, near his hometown.
The Lightning came into the game looking to find a way to build off the past week in which they won three of four games hoping to climb back into the playoff conversation. Instead, Tampa Bay failed to close to within three points of eighth place – currently held by Carolina and New York Rangers – in the Eastern Conference standings.
Mathieu Garon allowed three goals on 13 shots before giving way to Anders Lindback at 6:53 of the second period. It marked the third time in five career starts against Toronto in which Garon was pulled from the game. Garon would re-enter the game at 7:44 of the third period when Lindback left with an undisclosed lower body injury and will be day to day pending further evaluation, according to the team.
But in fairness to no matter who played in goal for the Lightning, Tampa Bay committed too many turnovers in its own zone and didn’t give either Garon or Lindback much help. Toronto was credited with 11 takeaways while the Lightning were listed as having committed nine giveaways.
It started early in the first, when Sami Salo flubbed a clearing attempt that allowed the Maple Leafs to keep the puck in the zone and had Tampa Bay scrambling around. It eventually allowed Lupul to sit alone in front of the net to push in a quick pass from Nazim Kadri for a 1-0 lead 6:56 into the game.
Though it was only a 1-0 lead through the opening 20 minutes, it didn’t last long as Phaneuf fired a slap shot from the center point that may have been tipped by Kulemin before it eluded Garon 52 seconds into the second period. Bozak then made it 3-0 at 6:53 that ended the night for Garon.
The changing of goaltenders didn’t provide the spark to ignite the Lightning as Kulemin pulled up inside the Tampa Bay zone as a racing Radko Gudas went past before wiring a wrist shot past Lindback 29 seconds after entering the game.
Tampa Bay finally got on the board as Gudas, in his fifth career game, sent a wrist shot from the right point along the boards that found a seam through traffic and found a hole over an unsuspecting Reimer at 7:44 of the third period. But any momentum the goal may have created was quickly squelched as Lindback immediately skated off the ice and back to the Tampa Bay locker room after facing eight shots.
Conacher, who grew up outside of Toronto in Burlington, Ont. and had an estimated 100 family and friends in attendance, made it 4-2 when he raced to the net to redirect a Tyler Johnson pass past Reimer with 2:58 left in the game