Tyler Bozak and Tim Connolly each recorded three points and Jonas Gustavsson stopped 27 of 28 shots as the Toronto Maple Leafs took over sole possession of first place in the Northeast Division with a convincing 7-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at St. Pete Times Forum.
The win gives the Leafs 26 points, breaking a three-way tie for the top spot in the Northeast with the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres. Boston does hold three games in hand, and Buffalo has two on Toronto.
The Leafs had 13 different players pick up at least one point, led by Bozak's two goals and an assist and Connolly's goal and two helpers.
It didn't take long for the Maple Leafs to get on the board, as Clarke MacArthur got his stick on Jake Gardiner's point shot and deflected it past Bolts' starter Dwayne Roloson just 41 seconds into the contest. It was MacArthur's seventh goal of the season in his first game back from an upper body injury suffered in a game against the Phoenix Coyotes last Tuesday.
With Gardiner in the penalty box, the Lightning were able to tie the game on the power play. Steven Stamkos sent a pass from the left wing boards to Vincent Lecavalier at the right faceoff dot, and the captain rifled a one-timer through Gustavsson for his ninth of the year at the 8:38 mark.
But thanks to Gustavsson and Toronto's team defense, that would end up being the lone Tampa Bay offensive highlight of the night.
Connolly would score what would prove to be the game-winning goal with the man advantage late in the opening stanza after Victor Hedman took a double minor for high-sticking MacArthur. Ninety-six seconds into the first half of the four minutes, Nikolai Kulemin sent a pass into the slot from the top of the left circle that Connolly redirected past Roloson for the 2-1 lead with 2:04 remaining in the frame.
But Pavel Kubina further complicated things for the Lightning, as he took an interference call 48 seconds later to give Toronto a two-man advantage. NHL scoring leader Phil Kessel sent a pass from the left circle to Bozak just to Roloson's left and after the goaltender made the initial stop, Bozak was able to swat his own rebound into the net for his third tally of the season with 37.1 seconds left in period one.
Gustavsson preserved the two-goal lead midway through the second period, turning aside a point blank Matt Gilroy backhander as the defenseman rumbled down the slot.
At the 17:45 mark, the Leafs were able to increase their advantage when winger Matt Frattin flipped the puck towards the Tampa Bay net and split the defenders. As he skated towards Roloson, Frattin deftly dropped a pass back to the trailing Joe Colborne, who didn't get all of his shot, but still sent a dribbler into the net past a startled Roloson and Kubina. It was the first NHL goal for Colborne, who was recalled from the AHL's Toronto Marlies this past Saturday night, and staked the Maple Leafs to a 3-1 lead heading into the third.
And that's when the flood gates were opened. Bozak notched his second of the year at 3:07, then Joffrey Lupul tallied his 11th -- chasing Roloson in favor of backup Mathieu Garon -- and Joey Crabb potted his third to close out the scoring.
The seven goals scored matched Toronto's season-high for a game that was set Saturday against the Washington Capitals in an identical 7-1 score.
The loss dropped the Lightning to .500, with a 9-9-2 record. The six-goal defeat was the worst suffered by Tampa this season, and the seven goals tied the most goals allowed by the Bolts in their first 20 contests.
By stopping just 15 of 21 Toronto shots on goal, Roloson's record dropped to 6-6-1 for the season. His inflated 3.46 goals-against average and awful .887 save percentage have to be a worry for Tampa GM Steven Yzerman and head coach Guy Boucher.
Even though Lecavalier scored a goal, he -- along with Martin St. Louis -- ended the night a minus-4 in the +/- ratings, while Gardiner finished with a game-high plus-4.
As the final minute ticked off the clock, it was apparent just how many Leafs' supporters had made the trek to root for their favorite team. Chants of "Go Leafs Go!" could not be drowned out by the boos of the Tampa Bay crowd.