“Hopefully this gets momentum rolling the other way for us,” said Chad Kilger, who sparked a rally from a two-goal deficit in a 5-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night. Alexei Ponikarovsky, Darcy Tucker and Jeff O’Neill added a goal each for the Leafs, who had been 0-6-1 since a Nov. 24 win.
“We worked hard,” said captain Mats Sundin. “We deserved the win.”
The game changed in Toronto’s favour when, with Tampa Bay having taken a 3-1 lead 24 seconds into the middle period, Maurice used a time out to yank starting goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin, send in Andrew Raycroft, and deliver a 30-second lecture at the men.
“It was X-rated,” said Mike Peca.
“None of it is printable,” said Maurice.
Raycroft stopped all but one of the 17 shots he faced.
Nikita Alexeev, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis scored for the Lightning.
Ponikarovsky opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 3:28, but goals by Alexeev at 7:32, Lecavalier on a power play at 12:29 and Richards early in the second off a Bryan McCabe giveaway gave the Lightning all the momentum.
Then came the time out. Aubin had stopped only six of the nine shots he’d faced.
“I didn’t like the first two on J.S.,” said Maurice. “I didn’t think they were bad, but we needed more.”
He got it from Raycroft.
The Leafs came on strong, and Kilger made it 3-2 at 12:55. Goaltender Johan Holmqvist was sprawled in his crease after stopping a Tucker slap shot when Kilger lifted the rebound into the open side of the net.
“Tucker went down and pounded one and Kilger went to the net – that’s why we won the game,” Maurice said afterwards.
Kilger tied it 3-3 at 19:31 when he pushed in a Peca pass on a rare 2-on-0 rush for his sixth goal of the season.
For the first time in a long time, the Leafs clawed their way back into a game after blowing a lead. They had had enough of losing. They were fed up. Lightning coach John Tortorella was getting fed up, too
“The second half of that second period was probably the sloppiest, most irresponsible period we’ve played,” said Tortorella. “Giving up a two-on-nothing, turning the puck over with lateral passes instead of just going straight ahead (and) playing north-south . . .
“It’s absolutely ridiculous. I’m not taking anything away from Toronto, but we made some sloppy mistakes, and that cost us the game. It’s unacceptable.”
Toronto jumped ahead 4-3 when Tucker deflected in a Sundin shot at 3:37 of the third. It was Tucker’s team-leading 18th goal, and his 13th on power plays.
O’Neill put in a rebound with Holmqvist down at 10:55, and St. Louis slid a bad-angle shot from the side of the net in off Raycroft’s leg pad on a power play at 16:16 to set up a tense finish.
Toronto was 2-for-4 and Tampa Bay 2-for-5 on power plays. Tampa Bay had a 26-25 edge in shots on goal.
Toronto improved to 14-13-5.
“We were taking steps during the last couple of games to improve,” said Kilger. “We didn’t play a full 60 (Tuesday) but we did enough to win.”
It was a more physical effort by the Leafs than what they’d been showing during the previous two weeks.
“We took the body and when we did we controlled the pace of the game,” said Peca.
The Lightning slipped to 14-15-2.
“Right now, a lot of games are ending the same way,” said St. Louis. “We lose control and the next thing you know, it’s another loss. It’s frustrating.”
Added Richards: “There’s something that happens every game and we can’t recover from it. We’re not reacting well to momentum swings right now, and it’s costing us games.”
Notes: Former Leafs coach Pat Burns and former GM Cliff Fletcher were in the crowd of 19,462 . . . Lecavalier has scored eight goals in his last seven games and is on a seven-game points streak (8-6-14) . . . Carlo Colaiacovo got into his first game of the season in place of Brendan Bell . . . C Nik Antropov missed a third straight game with a sore ankle. Fans cheered the pre-game announcement of the lineup scratch . . . In their previous 31 games, the Leafs outscored opponents 33-27 in first periods and 36-31 in second periods, but they were outscored 42-23 in third periods . . . Toronto entered the game ranked eighth in the league on power plays and 22nd in penalty killing . . . The Leafs are at Carolina on Friday three years to the day after Paul Maurice was fired by the Hurricanes . . . Most career points as a Maple Leaf: Darryl Sittler 916, Dave Keon 858, Sundin 856 . . . Tampa Bay forward Rob DiMaio, who suffered a concussion Sept. 26, still hasn’t been able to resume his career.