TORONTO - On a May night, more than five years ago, Joffrey Lupul served notice of all the possibilities that came with his sometimes uneven game.
At the age of 21, just two years into his National Hockey League career, he did something few have ever done before: Lupul scored four goals in a Stanley Cup playoff game for Brian Burke’s Anaheim Ducks.
Some, maybe even Lupul, thought this was the beginning of something special. And four teams, four trades, and more than four serious injuries later, his personal battle of false starts and stops is seemingly over.
It is happening for the Maple Leafs left winger in a way it has never happened before. And in a way that has made the Maple Leafs one of the more dangerous offensive teams in the NHL this season.
Lupul scored a goal, assisted on three others — a four-point night instead of a four-goal playoff night — in leading Toronto to one of its largest wins of the season. A win that was absolutely necessary at this hang wringing time. A win that began a month of home games that will likely determine whether the Leafs are a playoff team or not. A win that put the kind of separation needed between the Leafs and the previously surging but defensively inept Tampa Bay Lightning. A win that meant the Leafs didn’t relinquish points in the standings below Buffalo.
A win that meant more to Lupul than his goal and his assists and the fact he is now tied with Daniel Sedin and Steven Stamkos in scoring in the NHL, ahead of Jonathan Toews, among others, brought a smile to his face.
He smiled when he heard that not so small piece of news. “I don’t expect to be up there with a guy like Steven Stamkos,” he said.
And then he smiled again. He was talking about a statistic few speak about. Lupul doesn’t lead the NHL scoring — but he does lead the league in games in which he has registered a point. That was one of the numbers Wayne Gretzky always took pride in. He didn’t just want to lead the league in scoring. He wanted to score every night.
Lupul has points in all but eight of the Leafs games, making him the most consistent point getter in hockey.
“That’s a neat stat, something I take some pride in,” said the somewhat humble Lupul. He isn’t used to this. Being surrounded after a game. Being up there among the names that usually talked about as being the best in hockey.
Lupul has been a player of moments before this season. The four-goal playoff night for Anaheim. “I think I had a six-point game in Philadelphia. I’ve done this kind of thing before.” Here, he’ll take his four from Tuesday night, but he wants to make sure he gets one every night out.
“Not the stat, but that’s something I’ve strived for this year. I wanted to be a little more consistent. It’s something I’ve worked on with the coaches. When I go the net more, when I’m outworking people and winning battles, it makes a difference in my game.”
It is a remarkable contrast, an astounding difference from where Lupul is now, where he was a year ago this time. He was back in Anaheim last year, coming off a back injury and blood disorder. He was being thought of as a guy who once had talent but couldn’t stay healthy. “I think they thought of me as the injured guy all the time,” he said. “I didn’t really get the chance to come back
“But what a difference a year makes. The trade (to Toronto) changed my career.”
That and the position change. Before this season, and the second half of last year, Lupul had never played left wing. That’s what he says. The truth is, the Ducks tried him at left wing and considered the attempt a failure. When Anaheim traded him to Toronto, one of their front office people declared: “They’re fooling themselves if they think he can play left wing.”
“I didn’t think I could do it but I’ve discovered it’s been the best thing to ever happen to me,” Lupul said. “I like coming off the off wing. I like what you can do offensively when you’re protecting the puck.”
It’s what he could do Tuesday night when the Leafs needed a lift more than they have at any time this season. “The win was huge,” said Lupul, trying to downplay his own accomplishment.