TAMPA, Fla. – The Toronto Maple Leafs had some help on the road in Tampa Bay.
Down by a goal in the third period, the Maple Leafs, in front of a supportive crowd of mostly Toronto fans and Canadian tourists, forced overtime with six minutes left in regulation.
John Mitchell netted the winner in the shootout for the 4-3 victory over the Lightning on Tuesday night.
Mitchell, who scored the Maple Leafs’ first goal in the second period, netted the first shootout goal of his career and the Maple Leafs avoided a four-game, season-series sweep by the Lightning.
Tampa Bay outscored the Maple Leafs 16-10 this season and had won six straight against them.
“Usually, I kind of deke,” Mitchell said of his shootout goal, “so that time I told myself, ‘You know what? I’m going to try shooting and see how it goes that way.’ And It worked out.”
Mitchell’s deciding goal was scored in the sixth round of the shootout after Toronto trailed 3-0 in the second period.
“That was a great game,” Maple Leafs defenceman Ian White said. “I know we never said die and kept battling, kept shooting pucks and then completely dominated that third period.”
Jeff Hamilton, who tied it at 3, scored the first shootout goal. Vincent Lecavalier scored the Lightning’s only shootout goal on a deke past Curtis Joseph to force the extra rounds.
Mitchell won it with a low shot past the right skate of goalie Karri Ramo.
The Lightning went ahead 3-0 on a power-play tally by Lecavalier, who has a team-high 29 goals.
Steven Stamkos and Matt Pettinger added a pair of goals only 10 seconds apart, matching the Lightning’s second fastest two goals at home.
“We go up 3-0 and lose the game,” said Stamkos, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft. “That’s totally unacceptable. We can’t afford to do that.
“They got the two points, and we were able to salvage one, if you want to look at that as a positive.”
Jason Blake scored the second goal for the Maple Leafs four minutes into the third. Each time Toronto scored, the arena was filled with chants of “Go Leafs Go.”
“That was unbelievable. It was actually sometimes louder than it is at the (Air Canada Centre),” Toronto coach Ron Wilson said, referring to the Maple Leafs’ home arena.
“A Tuesday night in Tampa (and) it seems like we had the home fans for the majority, which gave us a little extra boost,” White said.
This was the second straight game decided by a shootout for the Lightning. Tampa Bay beat the Florida Panthers 4-3 on Saturday.
Ramo, who had 36 saves, stopped Lee Stempniak, Mikhail Grabovski, Blake and Nikolai Kulemin in the shootout. Joseph, who had 19 saves, stopped Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Ryan Malone, Vaclav Prospal and Evgeny Artyukhin in the tiebreaker.
In just his eighth start, the 41-year-old Joseph has come through recently and his efforts have been noticed.
“He was going through a lot of issues at the start of the year,” White said. “Give him credit for just putting his game face on all the time and then always coming to work hard.”
Notes: Toronto has played an NHL-high 22 overtime games. The Lightning have been in 19. … Tampa Bay has lost four straight and seven of eight home games. … There was a pre-game moment of silence held for former Lightning and Detroit Pistons owner William Davidson, who died on March 13. Williams owned the Lightning from 1999-2008. … Lightning D Cory Murphy sustained a lower body injury and missed the third period. … Lightning D Marek Malik sat out his seventh straight game due to an undisclosed lower body injury. … Maple Leafs D Tomas Kaberle was scratched for a seventh consecutive game because of a hand injury. … Tampa Bay recalled D Matt Lashoff from Norfolk (AHL) and he made his NHL debut.