TORONTO — The easiest thing for the Lightning to do would be to mail it in.
Fourteen games to go, last in the Southeast, almost last in the league. Is it so hard to imagine minds starting to wander?
Instead, Tampa Bay has picked it up a notch, and Thursday night's satisfying 4-1 victory over the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre hinted at a bit of a renewed spirit.
"We still have fans back in Tampa and people who pay good money to see us in other rinks," left wing Matt Pettinger said. "You can't just put the skates on and punch a clock. You really have to go out there and play hard."
Tampa Bay (22-32-14) has done that in the first two games of a three-game trip, earning three of a possible four points.
Marty St. Louis' second-period goal, which gave him 25 for a sixth straight season, was the winner against Toronto and broke a 1-1 tie forged earlier in the period by Pettinger's breakaway goal.
Ryan Malone and Paul Szcechura scored third-period insurance goals, and Karri Ramo made 20 saves as the Lightning outshot the Maple leafs 30-21, including 16-5 in the second while erasing a 1-0 deficit.
Where has the mini-resurgence come from? Players said it has everything to do with Saturday's 9-3 loss to the Hurricanes, a game they still can't discuss without using words such as "embarrassing" and "ashamed."
The fallout included mandatory off-ice workouts that supplemented on-ice practices, more video work and several team meetings on regaining a bit of self-esteem.
"It was unacceptable," coach Rick Tocchet said. "That's why we went to work. It's not about getting tee-off times. It's about working for your paycheck and working for the logo."
"Whenever you get beat like that, you want to get some respect back," St. Louis said. "I think we've done that."
The Lightning did it by winning its fourth straight against Toronto with a defense that for the second game in a row allowed fewer than 30 shots and a quickly developing partnership between St. Louis and rookie center Steven Stamkos.
Together on a line for four games, the chemistry is undeniable. And it was Stamkos' pinpoint, almost no-look, cross-ice pass from the left wing boards that set up St. Louis' goal.
What was Tampa Bay's reward for a job well done? More hard work as the team was scheduled this morning for off-ice conditioning before getting on a plane to South Florida.
"They'll be getting out of bed and doing something," Tocchet said.
"Nobody," St. Louis said, "is packing it in."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com
First Period—1, Toronto, Stempniak 13 (Blake, Schenn), 3:21. Penalties—Artyukhin, TB (holding), 5:16; Artyukhin, TB (hooking), 16:07.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Pettinger 4 (Karsums), 5:25. 3, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 25 (Stamkos, Malone), 17:19. Penalties—Stralman, Tor (interference), 6:00; Oreskovic, Tor (slashing), 8:11; Kulemin, Tor (holding), 12:18.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, Malone 24 (Murphy, Lecavalier), 14:35 (pp). 5, Tampa Bay, Szczechura 3, 17:54. Penalties—Halpern, TB (high-sticking), 7:11; Stralman, Tor (tripping), 13:06; Artyukhin, TB, misconduct, 19:06; Craig, TB, misconduct, 19:06; Ondrus, Tor, misconduct, 19:06. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 5-16-9—30. Toronto 7-5-9—21. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 4; Toronto 0 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Ramo 3-7-3 (21 shots-20 saves). Toronto, Gerber 6-11-1 (30-26). A—19,209 (18,819).