Maple Leafs jolt Bolts
Lance Hornby, QMI Agency
|Toronto Maple Leafs' Tyler Bozak (L) celebrates his goal as Tampa Bay Lightning's Nate Thompson reacts during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Tampa, Florida November 22, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Carlson)
TAMPA - Before the puck dropped at the St. Pete Times Forum, a cozy Thanksgiving graphic flashed on the board: “The table is set for a holiday.”
Just 41 seconds into Tuesday’s game, it was the Maple Leafs gorging themselves 7-1 at the expense of the Eastern Conference finalist Lightning. Among the notable diners:
Tim Connolly set up a first-minute goal on his way to a three-point night, his best outing as a Leaf.
Toronto’s power play had two first-period goals, giving them at least one in each of the past five games, their longest streak since at least 2009-10.
The youngest line on the youngest team in the NHL (for one night anyway) produced Joe Colborne’s first NHL goal on a nice feed from fellow rookie Matt Frattin, while defenceman Jake Gardiner pitched in with two assists.
Jonas (I’m not done yet) Gustavsson made one huge momentum-changing save before enjoying his second straight night of seven-goal support.
The Leafs recaptured first place in the Northeast Division to enjoy during their first two-day break in a week.
The power play was the most rewarding element for coach Ron Wilson, last in the NHL two years ago and 21st in 2009-10. It’s getting a wide range of contributions.
“We’ve worked on lots of different things and finally got everybody on the same page,” a relieved Wilson said. “We’re not improvising when we enter the zone, we’re moving the puck and distributing it and guys are scoring. It’s not relying on (league-scoring leader) Phil Kessel. We had the second unit score when they hadn’t really scored in a month.”
Connolly had three points to give him 10 in 10 games overall and even slumping Nikolai Kulemin was in the vicinity, despite his goalless streak getting to 15 games.
Centre Tyler Bozak had a three-point night as well (two goals), Wilson noting “a sense of urgency” in his game with Connolly showing he can play with different lines and Mikhail Grabovski due back from a leg injury next week.
“Last year, (Bozak) knew he was going to be in the lineup every night because we weren’t very deep. Now he’s competing to stay as long as he can on that (first) line,” Wilson said.
The penalty killing remains a work in progress, but has been better despite giving another one Tuesday to Vince Lecavalier. But that came after the Monster had stretched his pad to deny an open Lecavalier right after the first Leaf goal. Before he could think about a meltdown, the Lightning were marching to the penalty box, Victor Hedman for a six-stitch cut on Clarke MacArthur’s chin, and the Leafs were off to the races.
Gustavsson didn’t have to stop 40 shots as he did Saturday against Washington, but he now has blocked 67 of 69 over the past two games. He’s raised the stakes against Ben Scrivens in the battle to back-up James Reimer when the latter returns in the next week or so.
“I can’t focus on that,” Gustavsson said. “All that stuff is for the coaching staff and those (management) guys. But it’s a good thing that Reims is coming back and Ben is playing well, a good problem.”
After the Leafs were blanked in their previous two visits to Tampa, Gustavsson joked that he was talking to himself to keep alert as the score climbed higher, especially in the middle period when Tampa had just six shots. He’s taken seven of a possible 10 points from the Bolts in three years, but the real celebrating in the room was for Colborne. He picked up his first NHL goal two games after setting up Frattin’s on Saturday and the latter made a great drop to the big forward among several in the game.
“I was telling him that he owed me a good pass,” said Colborne. “I was just as happy we were on for two goals (winger Joey Crabb added another) and none against. That’s big for me with the coaching staff.”
“I’m hoping that someone grabbed the puck. We’re in a whirlwind to get out of here (and fly to Dallas), but it’s probably for my Mom. I gave my dad the puck from my first assist so she deserves one.”
It was a Thanksgiving that felt like Christmas.