A certain two words have been cited as a factor in nearly every loss for the Lightning this season: "Bad Start". Tonight, they faced about as bad a start as you could draw up, with defensive lapses digging a two-goal hole within the first eight minutes.
"Well, that's what happens sometimes when you play the Leafs and you give them an inch and they take a mile. I thought we broke down once on a back check and then another rush that our 'D' got mixed up, and they both end up in the back of the net." - Lightning head coach Jon Cooper
But in this case, they were able to recover quickly, make the necessary adjustments... and just maybe benefit a tiny bit from the fact that Toronto was playing the second game of back-to-backs in the state of Florida... and pull off the comeback over a division rival.
The Maple Leafs got on the board with their first shot of the game at 4:28 of the first, with Mike Santorelli notching his eighth goal of the season. He was assisted by Nazem Kadri and Dion Phaneuf.
At 7:47, they took their second shot and scored their second goal, this time from Joffrey Lupul with help from Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel.
Both goals were the result of poor defense and at this point, the large contingent of visiting fans were feeling pretty good about the money they spent to visit the Sunshine State, even though they were coming off a 6-4 loss the previous night in Sunrise to the Florida Panthers. But just after that, the Lightning tightened up and turned things around, dominating play through the end of the period, into the second and beyond. In fact, the Leafs managed no shots between 9:44 and 9:03 of the second, a span of 19:29.
The Lightning were down 2-0 at the end of the first but were clearly playing much better.
"We were really happy with our first period, a lot of opportunities, a lot of shots. (We) controlled most of it, so coming in here, we know if we can continue to do that, eventually it'll give and it did." - Ryan Callahan
They halved the Toronto lead when Callahan scored a power play goal on a deflected shot by Steven Stamkos at 6:37 of the second. Victor Hedman was credited with the secondary assist.
The score was tied at 9:46 on another deflection. This time, a shot from Hedman deflected off the skate of Valtteri Filppula, with Callahan picking up the additional helper.
The second ended locked up at two apiece.
With the teams having traded two-goal periods, all that remained was to see who would win the third. However, it was apparent the Lightning had momentum and fatigue on behalf of the Maple Leafs may have started to become a factor, Leafs goalie James Reimer was making back-to-back starts but still managed to stop 38 of the 41 shots he faced. On the other end, Ben Bishop stopped 21 of 23, all after the first two Toronto goals.
"Yeah, it's very frustrating. We've given up far too many shots. Granted, tonight's a back-to-back game. They're sitting here waiting. I think you could tell which team was fresher, but with saying that, that's part of the National Hockey League. You've got to be able to play back-to-backs." - Dion Phaneuf
The Lightning found the answer at the 11:05 mark, scoring the period's only goal on yet another deflection, with Stamkos doing the honors on a shot from Matthew Carle.
The win keeps the Lightning ahead of the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Atlantic Division. They'll now head out for a four-game road trip before returning home to face the Buffalo Sabres on January 9th.
- Tonight was the second of four regular season meetings between Toronto and Tampa Bay, with the Leafs winning 5-2 in Toronto on November 20. They'll meet again in Tampa on March 5.
- The Lightning are now 4-1-0 at home vs the Maple Leafs over the last two seasons.
- Stamkos has points (six goals, three assists) in his last five games vs Toronto.
- The Lightning have now won three in a row, the third time this season they've won at least that many consecutively.
- It's also their fourth consecutive home win.
- With the win, the Lightning reach the 50-point mark.
- The Bolts are now 17-1-1 in games when they score with the man advantage.
- As we all know, the Lightning win every time Ryan Callahan scores a goal. That record is now 15-0-0.
- The Lightning honored Tom Pepin as the 20th Lightning Community Hero of the year during the first period of tonight's game. Pepin, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to Pepin Academies. Pepin embodies the philosophy that if you focus on the disability, you miss the ability. This philosophy has enabled him to make a difference in the lives of many students in the community struggling with learning disabilities by helping them reach their hidden potential. In 1999, he and his family helped initiate the development of Pepin Academies, a 501 (c)(3) not for profit, tuition free, public charter school for students with learning disabilities, serving K - 12, and Pepin Transitional serving young adults ages 18 - 22.Continuing to provide vision, leadership, and financial support, Pepin has helped grow the original Pepin Academy high school of 17 students into a two campus school now serving close to 700 students in Hillsborough County. An additional campus in Pasco County was recently opened in the fall serving grades 3 - 10 with future plans to add on 11th and 12th grade learning. In addition to being named tonight's Lightning Community Hero, Pepin has received several acknowledgements for his devoted contributions to the community including: Citizen of the Year by the Tampa Police Department (2014), the President's Award from the Chiefs of Police Association (2014), and Health Care Philanthropist of the Year by the Tampa Bay Business Journal (2010).