A. Ray saves the day

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

TAMPA -- Andrew Raycroft said late last night he did not think he had just played his best game in a Maple Leafs uniform.

But after the Toronto netminder made a number of jaw-dropping saves against one of the hottest clubs in the National Hockey League, it was hard to remember anything better from the 26-year-old in blue and white.

Three nights after he was awful against the Vancouver Canucks, Raycroft had a major role in a 4-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Was he ever good," Leafs coach Paul Maurice said. "He made some huge saves on some great shooters. He was fantastic and I'm sure he needed it. He might come across as a little casual, but he feels (the pressure). Good for him and good for us.

"He was the best player on the ice."

Raycroft got into a zone on the Lightning's first shot of the game when he got his right pad on Vaclav Prospal's attempt from close range. In the second period, Raycroft made a pair of giant saves on Vincent Lecavalier in which he swept across the crease to thwart the Lightning sniper. Overall, Raycroft stopped 21 shots.

"It was solid, it was good, but I've had a couple that were better," Raycroft said, though no one could recall them. "I can't tell you guys how much it makes a difference for me when I just have to worry about everything in front of me. I can move and get the (read on the) pass rather than trying to find it looking around legs and bodies and having it go off sticks."

Raycroft said he did not dwell on his performance of Saturday night, when he was jeered by the crowd at the Air Canada Centre.

Raycroft was right -- it was not just because of him that Tampa had its five-game win streak snapped. The Leafs, who were buoyed by a goal by John Pohl with seven seconds left in the second period that tied the game 2-2, were air-tight in the third and allowed just two shots on Raycroft.

Also integral in the victory were Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky, who returned from lengthy stays on injured reserve. Both had a goal and an assist.

To make room for them, Kris Newbury and Ben Ondrus were assigned to the Marlies of the American Hockey League after the morning skate.

Alex Steen, who has eight goals in his past 10 games, got the winner at 15:39 of the third on a Leafs power play when he was set up by Matt Stajan.

Lecavalier and Dan Boyle scored for Tampa before an announced crowd of 19,830 at the St. Pete Times Forum. Marc Denis made 24 saves.

The victory was paramount for Toronto, which has 48 points, good for ninth in the Eastern Conference, two behind eighth-place Tampa. The Leafs, who continue a three-game trip tomorrow in Sunrise, Fla., against the Florida Panthers, are 11-8-3 away from the ACC.

"There is a comfort level on the road, but I don't think it is in relation to home," Maurice said. "The bench is under control, it is not quiet, it does not feel intimidated by the crowd or the other team. I think that is really important."

REPORT CARD

B Forwards: As good as Andrew Raycroft was, so too was Marc Denis for Tampa, making a handful of top saves as the Leafs forwards buzzed around him.

B Defence: When a player such as Martin St. Louis is relatively quiet, it's a good indication the corps did its job. A couple of penalties by Pavel Kubina, though, were unnecessary.

A Goaltending: Raycroft rebounded well from one of his poorest outings of the regular season.


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