TORONTO — The joke in the Lightning locker room before Wednesday night's game with the Maple Leafs was that captain Steven Stamkos, who grew up in the Toronto area, had never had a multigoal game at the Air Canada Centre.
"So I was due," Stamkos said.
And he delivered a natural hat trick, including what turned out to be the winner in what Stamkos called a "huge" 5-3 victory.
"I'm pretty excited I could do it in front of friends and family," Stamkos said and added, smiling, "I was a little disappointed there were no hats on the ice, but I'll take it."
It was the fourth straight win for the Lightning (38-24-7), and an important one, too, against an Atlantic Division foe it might meet in the playoffs and in a building in which it had lost four straight.
There was a scary moment when Toronto defenseman Paul Ranger, a former Lightning player, was wheeled off the ice on a stretcher after a first-period from-behind hit by Alex Killorn.
And there was another shaky third period in which Tampa Bay was outshot 22-8 and 39-30 in the game. Ben Bishop made 36 saves, 21 in the third period, for his 33rd victory.
Radko Gudas also scored. And Tyler Johnson's power-play goal with 7:04 left in the third re-established a two-goal lead after Toronto's Jake Gardiner made it 4-3 8:20 into the period.
"We were forcing too many pucks, turning them over," Johnson said. "We weren't trying to make plays. We were just trying to chip it out. That's a good play, but it can't be your only option."
Stamkos as an option is difficult to beat.
The center, who has played seven games since returning from a broken right tibia, has five goals and seven points in his past four.
His three consecutive goals, one on the power play, turned a 2-1 Toronto lead with 9:28 left in the in the first period into a 4-2 Lightning lead 5:55 into the second.
"I felt great. (Wednesday) was the best," said Stamkos, who has 19 goals on the season. "I kind of felt a little fatigued toward the end of the game, but the first two periods I was really getting in on the forecheck, not really worrying about it in the corners."
For coach Jon Cooper, Stamkos' best moment came with 52 seconds left in the third period when a fan jumped the glass and ran onto the ice. While security dealt with the interloper, " 'Stammer' brought the team around and laid down what was going to happen," Cooper said.
"It broke the tension on our bench. I can't say enough about his leadership ability. It was great to see."
As were his three goals.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Gudas 3 (Filppula), :59. 2, Toronto, Kessel 35 (Gunnarsson, Bozak), 3:31. 3, Toronto, Kulemin 9 (Gleason, Rielly), 10:32. 4, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 17 (Filppula), 13:22 (pp). 5, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 18 (Johnson, Salo), 15:39. Penalties—Clarkson, Tor (interference), 11:36; Bozak, Tor (tripping), 18:17; Killorn, TB, major-game misconduct (boarding), 19:55.
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Second Period—6, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 19 (Malone, Brewer), 5:55. Penalties—Lupul, Tor (tripping), 2:22; Crombeen, TB, major (fighting), 11:32; Clarkson, Tor, minor-major (holding, fighting), 11:32.
Third Period—7, Toronto, Gardiner 10 (Franson, Bozak), 8:20. 8, Tampa Bay, Johnson 22 (Malone, Purcell), 12:56 (pp). Penalties—Brewer, TB (interference), 4:51; McClement, Tor (high-sticking), 11:42; van Riemsdyk, Tor (holding), 15:27. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 8-14-8—30. Toronto 7-10-22—39. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 2 of 5; Toronto 0 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 33-11-6 (39 shots-36 saves). Toronto, Reimer 11-11-1 (30-25). A—19,585 (18,819). T—2:35. Referees—Gord Dwyer, Mike Leggo. Linesmen—David Brisebois, Brad Kovachik.