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STAMKOS' FIRST POINT WORTH WAIT IN VICTORY

The evening began with a joke:

Lightning center Steve Stamkos sprinting onto the ice for warmups as teammates purposefully waited in the runway behind him.

It took Stamkos, who grew up in the Toronto suburbs and played his first game at the Air Canada Centre, several moments to realize he was alone on the ice.

He was happy for the embarrassment after Tampa Bay's 3-2 victory Tuesday, a game in which Stamkos got his first career point, an assist, and the team found some footing.

Vinny Lecavalier scored twice for his team-best fifth goal, Vinny Prospal had two assists and Mike Smith, who is making good goaltending the norm rather than the exception, made 37 saves as the Lightning was outshot 39-25.

Tampa Bay (2-3-3) also snapped a 0-5-1 streak in Toronto and climbed out of the Southeast Division cellar.

It could not have come at a better time for a team that was coming off Saturday's dreadful loss to the Sharks and, with a league-worst 11 goals, unable for the most part to put the puck in the net.

The assist also was timely for Stamkos, the Unionville native, who played in front of about 50 friends and family. It came on what turned out to be the winning goal, Lecavalier's power-play tally that gave Tampa Bay a 3-1 second-period lead.

Some of the same problems that plagued the Lightning all season crept into the first period. The team was outshot 17-9. It took a momentum-sapping four minor penalties in 4:02 that, at one point, gave the Maple Leafs a 1:11 five-on-three.

Yet Tampa Bay came out of it with a 2-1 lead.

It started the scoring 5:08 into the period on Jussi Jokinen's goal, which was a result of good passing and a little bit of luck. Defenseman Mike Lundin began the play when his point shot deflected off Toronto defenseman Pavel Kubina and right to Mark Recchi, whose backhand pass found Jokinen alone at the side of the net.

The Maple Leafs answered at 7:34 with Matt Stajan's power play goal.

Prospal was called for holding at 8:17, Paul Ranger (his seventh penalty in three games) for hooking at 10:10 and Chris Gratton for delay of game at 10:59. The last two created a 1:11 five-on-three that Tampa Bay killed with Smith making his best save on a big shot from Tomas Kaberle.

Lecavalier made it 2-1 with 4:23 left when he held up enough to stay onside after a long pass from Prospal and made Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala look silly with a silky backhander.

Smith also got an assist for pushing the puck to Prospal.

Tampa Bay went ahead 3-1 4:08 into the second on Lecavalier's second goal, a power play tally that also resulted in Stamkos' first NHL point. It was a secondary assist as Stamkos got a stick on a puck that Prospal pushed to Lecavalier in front of the net.

Lecavalier's backhander beat Toskala high.

But Toronto answered with its second power-play goal with 6:45 left as Mike Van Ryn popped in Mikhail Grabovski's cross-ice pass. The shot sneaked under Smith's arm after tipping off the stick blade of Tampa Bay's Adam Hall.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com

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