Leafs sink Lightning in huge home win

Leaf scorers: Clarkson (6), Panik (4), van Riemsdyk (9), Polak (3)

Lightning scorers: Killorn (5), Stamkos (3)

Goalies: Bernier (Win), 60:00 minutes played, 26 saves, 2 GA, Bishop (Loss), 55:25 minutes played, 16 saves, 4GA

Thursday’s game at the ACC between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Lightning was brimming with a sense of nervousness as the Leafs were looking to avenge a pitiful 9-2 loss against the Nashville Predators. The severely lopsided loss rattled Leafs nation and had many questioning Randy Carlyle’s future in Toronto. Thursday’s match up would prove to be an important one in which the Leafs were desperate for a win.

Fortunately for the Leafs and its fans, David Clarkson got his team on the board less than two minutes into the first, a welcome change from the Leafs typical early period struggles where they have found themselves down a goal in the opening minutes. The Leafs seemed hungry offensively throughout the first period and generated several scoring changes.

The Leafs were given a couple of powerplay opportunities but weren’t able to capitalize on any of them and then later surrendered a short-handed goal when Alex Killorn scorn scored unassisted in the last minute of the period. Despite allowing the late goal, the Leafs had a far better first than they had in their previous outings.

The Leafs were quick out of the gate to start the second and it wasn’t long before they found themselves in the lead again on a goal from Richard Panik. Although both sides traded chances in the second, the period remained relatively uneventful until there were just seven minutes left and James van Riemsdyk added to the Leafs lead, making it 3-1. With four minutes left in the period, the Leafs found themselves on the powerplay yet again and were finally able to take advantage of the extra man with van Riemsdyk’s second goal of the evening. Although the Lightning were applying a lot of pressure in the Leafs end as the final minutes of the second wound down, Bernier stood tall in his net and it remained 4-1 heading into the third.

It was clear that the pace of the game had slowed by the middle of the third period and the Leafs found themselves in penalty trouble after taking back-to-back penalties, but they didn’t fall into complacency as they’re prone to and were cycling well through most of the final frame. The Leafs continued to generate a few scoring chances as the final period was set to expire but with a little over four minutes left, the Lightning pulled their goalie and Steven Stamkos managed to cut the lead to 2.

With less than ten seconds remaining, Roman Polak shot the puck into the empty net all the way from the Leafs zone, giving the Leafs a 5-2 victory.

Stephane Robidas spoke to the media after the game about how his team was able to rebound after two losses in their previous games. “We need to understand that we need to play our game. You’re not going to win 82 games, but there’s a way to lose hockey games too and the way we lost our two previous games was unacceptable. Today was a much better effort.”

The Leafs will face off against the Detroit Red Wings at the ACC on Saturday evening.