Too little, too late for Cujo

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

TAMPA -- For a while last night at the St. Pete Times Forum, there were glimpes of the Curtis Joseph of old rather than just an old Curtis Joseph.

The damage, however, had long been done by Maple Leafs starting goaltender Vesa Toskala as a four-goal first period by the Tampa Bay Lightning was enough of a stake for a 6-4 win.

"I'm not even going to comment on our goaltending any more," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said as his team lost for the fourth time in five games. "They've got to make more saves. We get four or five and that's not enough to get two points, let alone one?"

By the time it gets to the 41-year-old backup, unfortunately, two points are often out of the question.

That was the case last night when a Tampa goal eruption in a 4:13 span had the Leafs trailing 4-1 and Wilson reaching for the hook.

It didn't help Toskala that he was essentially in a shooting gallery, thanks to turnovers, sloppiness in front of him and a 5-on-3 Tampa power play. But as has transpired too often this season, the struggling Finn couldn't withstand the heat.

"They had a lot of good chances, but I just couldn't make the saves," said Toskala, who surrendered four goals on just 12 shots.

Joseph started strong, blanking the Lightning in the second as the Leafs fought back to a 4-3 score. But when Lightning rookie Steven Stamkos handcuffed him on a wrist shot at 6:01 of the third, the Leafs were done.

"It's what I do. I want to play in this league," Joseph said of getting his first action since replacing Toskala on Jan. 8, the highlight last night being a stuffing of Vinny Lecavalier on a third-period breakaway. "I was rusty at first, but tried to play with energy and passion."

The Leafs opened the scoring with Lee Stempniak's first of two on the night 10:58 into the first period. He scored his second, and 10th of the season, in the middle period and, when Nik Hagman potted his third in as many games at 12:46, suddenly the Leafs were back in it.

Ryan Malone, with two, Mark Recchi and Martin St. Louis scored the first period Tampa goals while Lecavalier scored the other on Joseph.

The Leafs' Nikolai Kulemin scored with 2:13 left to narrow the margin to two.

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REPLAY

TIME OUT

When Vesa Toskala was yanked at the 16:43 mark of the first period after Martin St. Louis had scored the Lightning's fourth goal, it marked the end of a rough stretch for the Leafs' starting goalie. Going back to Tuesday's 5-4 overtime loss against Florida, Toskala had surrendered eight goals in just less than 30 minutes of play.

FOUR PLAY

Tampa's four-goal first-period outburst marked its most productive 20 minutes of the season thus far. With the win, the Bolts improved to 2-0 versus the Leafs this season.

SPLIT DECISION

Jason Blake, the hottest Leaf for the past month or so, nearly brought the team all the way back from its three-goal deficit in the second period. With the visitors down 4-3, he split two Tampa defenders but his deke was thwarted by Lightning goal Mike McKenna.

ON THE PLUS SIDE

Leafs defenceman Jeff Finger wound up a plus-2 on the night. Rookie Luke Schenn was a minus-3.

POINT-GETTERS

Toronto G A P

Lee Stempniak 2 0 2

Niklas Hagman 1 1 2

Nikolai Kulemin 1 0 1

Jeff Finger 0 1 1

Mikhail Grabovski 0 1 1

Pavel Kubina 0 1 1

Jonas Frogren 0 1 1

Jamal Mayers 0 1 1

Tampa Bay leaders

Martin St. Louis 1 3 4

Ryan Malone 2 0 2

Mark Recchi 1 1 2

Vincent Lecavalier 1 1 2

Steven Stamkos 1 0 1

NEXT UP

Tomorrow -- Pittsburgh Penguins at Maple Leafs; 7 p.m. (CBC, AM 640)


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