TORONTO — The evening began with a joke:
Lightning center Steven Stamkos sprinting onto the ice for warmups as teammates purposefully waited in the runway behind him.
Stamkos, 18, who grew up in a Toronto suburb and played his first game in the Air Canada Centre, needed several moments to realize he was alone.
"I guess it was one of those rookie initiation things that I never heard of," Stamkos said. "I thought it was pretty funny. I guess we're going to start doing it every game here if we keep winning."
Tampa Bay's 3-2 victory Tuesday over the Maple Leafs couldn't have come at a better time for Stamkos or the team.
For the Unionville, Ontario, native and last summer's No. 1 draft choice, his first NHL point, an assist, relieved some pressure. For the Lightning (2-3-3), the team's first regulation win was redemption after Saturday's dreadful loss to the Sharks.
It also snapped a 0-5-1 streak in Toronto and pulled Tampa Bay out of the Southeast Division cellar.
"This means a lot," left wing Vinny Prospal said. "We had a disaster at home versus San Jose. This was the way to bounce back. We deserved to win."
Prospal set up Vinny Lecavalier's two goals. And even though Marty St. Louis was without a point, his four shots contributed to the MVP line's best game of the season.
Jussi Jokinen scored, and what more can be said about Mike Smith? The goaltender again was exceptional with 37 saves as the Lightning was outshot 39-25, including 13-5 in a scoreless third period.
Smith's excellence makes you wonder where Tampa Bay could be if it had more than 14 goals.
"If we could score one more goal a game, we'd have 10, 12 points and Mike Smith would be leading every goaltending category in the NHL," Melrose said.
Smith, who has faced 37.5 shots a game in six starts, already leads with a .942 save percentage. Asked when he would like to see the shots start to reduce, Smith joked, "Tomorrow.
"No, it happens," he continued. "But it seems to be getting into the habit where it's like a shooting gallery back there. But it's my job to stop pucks, so I can't really complain."
Other things to complain about: winning just 41 percent of faceoffs, and six minor penalties, four in 4:02 of the first period that at one point forced Tampa Bay to kill off a 1:11 five-on-three.
There was no complaining about Lecavalier, who has a team-best five goals.
He scored in the first period off a long pass from Prospal that ricocheted off the side boards. Lecavalier held up at the blue line before touching the puck to avoid going offsides, then made goalie Vesa Toskala look sick with a sweet backhander.
Lecavalier's power-play goal 4:03 into the second put the Lightning ahead 3-1. That also was the goal on which Stamkos got his assist.
"I thought I touched it," Stamkos said. "I let Vinny know I thought I had it in the corner, and when I heard the name, that was pretty cool."
"Definitely a weight off his shoulders," Lecavalier said.
And a good rookie initiation.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com. View his blog at lightning.sptimes.com.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Jokinen 1 (Recchi, Lundin), 5:08. 2, Toronto, Stajan 1 (Antropov, Ponikarovsky), 7:34 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 4 (Prospal, M.Smith), 15:37. Penalties—Finger, Tor (holding), :58; Van Ryn, Tor (delay of game), 1:24; Krajicek, TB (interference), 6:57; Prospal, TB (holding), 8:17; Ranger, TB (hooking), 10:10; Gratton, TB (delay of game), 10:59.
Second Period—4, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 5 (Prospal, Stamkos), 4:08 (pp). 5, Toronto, Van Ryn 2 (Grabovski, Hagman), 13:15 (pp). Penalties—Mayers, Tor (hooking), 4:03; Lundin, TB (hooking), 6:27; Malik, TB (holding), 11:58; Van Ryn, Tor (delay of game), 17:09.
Third Period—None. Penalty—Kaberle, Tor (delay of game), 2:14. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 9-11-5—25. Toronto 17-9-13—39. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 5; Toronto 2 of 6. Goalies—Tampa Bay, M.Smith 2-2-2 (39 shots-37 saves). Toronto, Toskala 3-2-2 (25-22). A—19,348 (18,819). T—2:33. Referees—Greg Kimmerly, Bill McCreary. Linesmen—Mike Cvik, Scott Cherrey.