Leafs ground Stamkos, Lightning

Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier takes a run at the Toronto Maple Leafs' J.S. Giguere.  (Mark...

Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier takes a run at the Toronto Maple Leafs' J.S. Giguere. (Mark O'Neill/QMI AGENCY)

TERRY KOSHAN, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:46 PM ET

Local boy Steven Stamkos did his thing for the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre, but more importantly, the players who help make up the future of the Maple Leafs kept pace with the young sniper.

In front of an announced crowd of 19,110 that included Trailer Park Boys Ricky, Julian and Bubbles, Phil Kessel scored the winner at 3:33 of overtime, deking to his backhand on a 2-on-1 with Tyler Bozak to beat goalie Mike Smith and give the Leafs a 4-3 win.

Viktor Stalberg had his first two-goal game in the NHL and Luca Caputi contributed a pair of assists in regulation as the Leafs won in overtime for the second game in a row and second time this season.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere stopped Vinny Lecavalier on a breakaway in the extra period, one of several heart-stopping moments before Kessel, dog-tired at the end of a shift, scored his 23rd of the season.

The Leafs’ Tyler Bozak and the Lightning’s Steve Downie traded goals early in the third period, with Bozak scoring at 3:37 and Downie replying at the five-minute mark.

Stamkos, for the seventh game in a row, and Kurtis Foster also scored for the Lightning, which lost for the fifth consecutive road game despite the fact it is battling for a playoff spot.

When Smith watches the video of the game, he’s going to wish he could have do-overs on each of Stalberg’s goals. Truth is, Smith probably knew immediately on both goals that he should have made the save.

Stalberg gave the Leafs a 2-1 lead when he popped a pair less than seven minutes apart in the second period. At 9:29, Stalberg chose to keep on an odd-man rush with Caputi and beat Smith with a wrist shot that might have deflected off the stick of Lightning defenceman Mike Lundin. Still, it was not a hard shot, and it bounced in off Smith’s catching glove.

The go-ahead goal for Toronto at 16:17 was worse. After Caputi and Stalberg teamed up for some effective forechecking, Stalberg fought off Nate Thompson and came out with the puck on the far side of the net. Smith opened his legs too wide on the butterfly and Stalberg’s attempt, nothing more than a soft shot, went between the goalie’s legs.

Public address man Andy Frost had just started to announce the goal when the Lightning tied the game 2-2.

Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf swept in to clear the puck from the goal line after it got behind Giguere, but Tampa regained control. Foster had plenty of time to wind up from the slot and ripped a shot to the top corner, over Giguere’s catching glove.

While the Leafs power play has become a misnomer, going 0-for-30 in the past seven games including going scoreless on two attempts against Tampa, Stamkos continues to light it up.

The 20-year-old scored his league-best 18th power-play goal at 18:17 of the first period, but it did not come as a result of his wicked one-timer. Close, though.

Stamkos, parked to his customary spot in the faceoff circle to the right of the goaltender, took a pass from Foster. Rather than blast away, Stamkos waited for Giguere to react to the possible one-timer, and instead got a wrist shot off that found the top corner on the short side.

It was Stamkos’ 42nd goal of the season. With 16 games left, Stamkos has an excellent chance at 50 goals, and if he hits the milestone, the Markham native would become the third-youngest player in NHL history (after Wayne Gretzky and Jimmy Carson) to do so.

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca


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