By Brooks Roland
A promising start to a three-game road trip turned into a finish that left a bad taste in the mouths of the Tampa Bay Lightning. After splitting the first two games of the trip with a 5-1 win over the Rangers and a 5-2 loss to the Islanders, the Lightning put up a lackluster effort in a 5-2 defeat to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. James van Riemsdyk scored a pair of goals for the Leafs, as they ended a three-game losing streak just two nights after getting blown out 9-2 at home to the Nashville Predators.
The game started off on a rough note for the Lightning as Toronto scored on their first shot of the game just 1:29 in, as David Clarkson snapped a shot past Bolts goalie Ben Bishop. It was evident in the opening period that the Leafs were playing with a sense of desperation, as they controlled much of the action and outshot the Lightning 9-8. For the third straight game, the Bolts had to kill off an early 5-on-3, and after the first penalty ended, Alex Killorn scored a shorthanded goal following a turnover in the neutral zone, skating down the right wing and firing a shot past Jonathan Bernier to tie it up 1-1. It was the first shorthanded tally of Killorn’s career, and it appeared that the Lightning were back in this game going into the intermission. However, history began to repeat itself in the second period.
Two days ago against the Islanders, Bolts defenseman Anton Stralman committed a bad turnover that led to a goal that broke the game open. The same thing would happen in this game, as Matt Carle committed a turnover that was even worse than the one Stralman had against the Isles. Carle tried to flip a pass from behind his own net into the middle of the ice. It was gloved down by former Lightning forward Richard Panik, who scored an easy goal to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead they would never relinquish just 2:45 into the second period. James van Riemsdyk would follow it up by scoring a pair of goals, including one on a power play, to give the Leafs a 4-1 lead going into the final period. Steven Stamkos added his 13th goal of the year late in the 3rd, and Toronto tacked on an empty-netter, which was the finishing touch on a game in which the Lightning played poorly and looked completely flat. Head Coach Jon Cooper said it best in the postgame interview when he said the Bolts, “Couldn’t complete a ten-foot pass.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
James van Riemsdyk took five shots and scored on two of them, finishing plus-1 in 19:31 of ice time. After seeing teammate Phil Kessel get a few good scoring chances off the rush skating down the left wing, van Riemsdyk took advantage of a turnover in the neutral zone, blazed down the left wing, and wristed a shot past the glove of Bishop for a 3-1 Toronto lead 12:31 into the second period. Just 2:44 later, van Riemsdyk found himself alone to the left of Bishop on a Leafs power play and roofed a shot into the net to make it 4-1.
Richard Panik’s goal early in the second period that allowed the Leafs to regain the lead. It felt like deja vu for Lightning fans, as they’ve allowed the go-ahead goal off bad turnovers in back-to-back games. Matt Carle’s error that led to Panik’s goal was one of the most egregious you’ll ever see in a hockey game, and the Lightning never recovered.
IT WAS OVER WHEN…
van Riemsdyk scored his second goal of the night, putting Toronto up 4-1 and leaving them firmly in control of this game the rest of the way, even though the Lightning were able to score with a few minutes left in the game and made a late push to score again after the Lightning pulled Ben Bishop for an extra man with about four-and-a-half minutes to go.
Leafs center Tyler Bozak was outstanding for Toronto, picking up two assists and finishing a plus-2 on the night. However, it was his prowess in the faceoff circle that allowed the Leafs to control much of the action, as he won 22 of the 30 faceoffs he took for the night.
The Lightning begin a three-game homestand Saturday night at Amalie Arena, where they’ll host the Minnesota Wild at 7 pm. The Wild defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 on Thursday night, their fourth victory in a row. This game will be the second game of a three-game road trip for Minnesota. After that, the Lightning will have three days off before hosting the Rangers in what will be former captain Marty St. Louis’s highly anticipated return to Tampa Bay.