TAMPA — Coach Rick Tocchet said that coming off a weeklong road trip, he knew Wednesday night's game with the Maple Leafs would be a grind.
Tocchet noticed that some guys looked a little tired, and they played like it in a 4-3 loss in front of 15,333 at the St. Pete Times Forum. It was the Lightning's first regulation home defeat of the season.
Tampa Bay (9-6-7) showed plenty of fight, coming from behind twice to tie the score. But Tocchet said it wasn't mentally sharp, and a few mistakes, from turnovers to missed coverages, turned into quality chances for the last-place Maple Leafs.
"I don't think we showed consistency tonight," left wing Stephane Veilleux said. "We need to get going a little more, and I thought it was the main difference.
"We can't rely on our goalie every night, and I think we need to give a little more, especially in front of our fans. … And coming back from the road like that, we need to dictate our own game."
Wednesday, the Lightning did the opposite. "We kind of waited around to see what kind of game (Toronto) wanted to play, and we just kind of joined in," wing Ryan Malone said.
The Maples Leafs (5-11-7) jumped on the Lightning early with two first-period goals, one by Nikolai Kulemin, who scored off a rebound, and another by a streaking Niklas Hagman, who received a perfect two-line pass and got between David Hale and Paul Szczechura before beating goalie Antero Niittymaki.
The Lightning tied it in a flash, scoring twice in 30 seconds with about five minutes left. One goal came on a power play by Andrej Meszaros, who one-timed a great pass from Steve Downie, and the other came on an impressive effort by Jeff Halpern, who collected his own rebound as he fell to the ice and set up Vinny Lecavalier's fifth of the year.
"I thought (Halpern) was probably one of our best forwards," Tocchet said.
Malone tied the score at 3 about eight minutes into the second period with his 15th goal of the season, but the Maple Leafs went ahead for good with less than two minutes left. Matt Stajan took advantage of a turnover near mid ice and carried the puck in before wristing a shot into the top left corner of the net.
"When you don't have it, you've got to play real simple and smart," Tocchet said. "You've got to get pucks in deep and just buy your time. I thought we tried to make stuff that wasn't there on two goals. I'm a little disappointed in that because I think that's a mental toughness that we're looking for when you're tired."
Said Malone: "For 60 minutes we weren't very good. We deserved to be beat tonight."
First Period—1, Toronto, Kulemin 4 (Gunnarsson, Primeau), 6:45. 2, Toronto, Hagman 10 (Beauchemin, Gunnarsson), 11:54. 3, Tampa Bay, Meszaros 3 (Downie, Stamkos), 14:14 (pp). 4, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 5 (Halpern, Tanguay), 14:44. Penalties—Downie, TB (charging), 7:00; White, Tor (tripping), 13:28; Hanson, Tor (roughing), 15:04.
Second Period—5, Toronto, Hagman 11 (Grabovski, Exelby), 1:20. 6, Tampa Bay, Malone 15 (Stamkos, St. Louis), 7:51. 7, Toronto, Stajan 6 (Gunnarsson), 18:13. Penalties—Hedman, TB (tripping), 15:43.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Tanguay, TB (tripping), 7:57; Kulemin, Tor (tripping), 9:21. Shots on Goal—Toronto 13-11-11—35. Tampa Bay 14-11-6—31. Power-play opportunities—Toronto 0 of 3; Tampa Bay 1 of 3. Goalies—Toronto, Gustavsson 4-4-5 (31 shots-28 saves). Tampa Bay, Niittymaki 6-2-3 (35-31). A—15,333 (19,758).