The playoff race for the Lightning ended long ago, but the scoring race is heating up.
Marty St. Louis notched his seventh career hat trick to gain the league scoring lead in Tampa Bay’s 5-2 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday in front of an announced crowd of 18,826 at The Forum.
With three points, St. Louis moved past Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby into the league scoring lead with 58 points, two ahead of Crosby, who has been out since March 30 with a broken jaw.
Steven Stamkos notched his 29th of the season and is two points behind his teammate for the scoring lead, and he pulled within two goals of Washington’s Alex Ovechkin for the Rocket Richard Trophy.
St. Louis, 37, would become the oldest player to win a scoring title and it would come nine years since winning his first Art Ross Trophy in 2004. Stamkos is in the running for his first scoring title while looking for his third Rocket Richard Trophy.
The first period proved a statistically familiar story for the Lightning, who had the upper hand in shots on goal and won 12 of 15 faceoffs while maintaining good puck possession. While Tampa Bay caught a couple of breaks as Toronto put two scoring opportunities off the post in the opening half of the game, the Leafs caught a break to get on the board first.
After Matt Carle had his clearing attempt up the boards intercepted by Tyler Bozak, the Toronto center found Phil Kessel at the left circle, where his pass to the far post deflected off the stick of Eric Brewer and tucked inside the far post just past Ben Bishop with 2:57 remaining in the first period.
It marked the seventh consecutive game in which Tampa Bay allowed the first goal of the game.
After killing off back-to-back penalties to open the second period, Tampa Bay pulled even on a dazzling play by Stamkos. After Nate Thompson sent a lofting stretch pass up ice, Stamkos collected the puck and caught Mark Fraser flat-footed. With the extra step, Stamkos cut in toward the net while drawing a penalty before lifting a backhand shot over James Reimer for his 29th of the season at 5:54.
The Lightning took the lead 10 minutes later — the first time Tampa Bay led at any point in a game since beating Ottawa on April 9 — as Thompson was able to gain control of the puck in close and get it back out toward the top of the crease, where St. Louis scored into the open net at 15:48.
The lead was short-lived, however, as the Leafs took advantage of a Benoit Pouliot turnover to Cody Franson, who found Clarke MacArthur down low for a cross-ice pass to Joffrey Lupul with 23.4 seconds left to tie the game. The goal was the 11th in 14 games this season for Lupul.
Tampa Bay pulled back in front early in the third when Gudas, who left the game in the first with an apparent leg injury that had him unable to put any weight on his right leg, stepped into a puck and ripped a laser past Reimer at 3:13. The goal was the second of the season for Gudas, both against Toronto.
St. Louis scored his second of the game with 6:52 left when a shot from Keith Aulie caromed off the end boards to St. Louis at the side of the net, where he pushed a puck past Reimer.
The former league MVP capped his hat trick by scoring an empty-net goal with 2:49 left.