The Lightning twice gets within a goal of tying but falls to Toronto 3-2 to finish 2-2-2 in a stretch at the Ice Palace.
By KEVIN KELLY
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 1, 2001
TAMPA -- So much for momentum.
Toronto spoiled the finale to an otherwise successful six-game homestand for the Lightning on Sunday at the Ice Palace, stopping Tampa Bay with defense, offense and solid goaltending in a 3-2 win.
Three Maple Leafs scored, including former Tampa Bay player Darcy Tucker, and goalie Curtis Joseph stopped 22 shots in his fifth straight start before a rowdy pro-Toronto crowd of 16,105.
The Lightning missed a chance to claim its first four-game unbeaten stretch since December 1999 and fell three points behind Carolina, a 2-1 winner over Chicago, for third place in the Southeast Division.
Rookie center Brad Richards scored a power-play goal, center Ryan Johnson also scored and goaltender Kevin Weekes saved 31 shots, but Tampa Bay remained winless against Toronto at home since 1993 and hasn't beaten the Maple Leafs in the past 12 tries.
Toronto, two for its past 24 on the power play before the game, got the man advantage in the first period when Lightning defenseman Cory Sarich upended left wing Gary Roberts as he skated toward Tampa Bay's zone with 6:21 remaining.
Fifty-two seconds into the power play, Roberts passed to defenseman Bryan McCabe at the blue line. He ripped a slap shot over Weekes' left shoulder for his third goal of the season.
It appeared McCabe's shot deflected off Johnson's glove, causing the puck to go airborne.
Before the goal, the Lightning had killed 11 of its 11 penalties in its past two games.
Soon after the goal and another scoring chance by Toronto, Tampa Bay left wing Kyle Freadrich and Maple Leafs right wing Tie Domi fought briefly with 3:26 remaining.
Weekes could do nothing about Toronto's second goal at 17:08 into the first period.
Center Nik Antropov centered a pass from the left corner to Tucker, who zipped through the slot and one-timed a shot uncontested past Weekes for his 11th goal of the season.
Tucker was traded to Toronto in February after three seasons with the Lightning. He scored 41 goals and had 50 assists in 167 career games in Tampa Bay.
The Lightning got off five shots to the Maple Leafs' 16 in the first period.
In two stretches it went eight minutes and five minutes without a shot against Joseph.
Tampa Bay showed a little more life in the second period, butnot much.
Richards scored on a power play with 12:05 left, which was offset by Tampa Bay's failure to get a shot off for the next 10:50. That span included a four-minute power play.
Richards scored his team-leading fifth power-play goal, and Tampa Bay's third in four games, when his shot from the goal line deflected off Joseph's blocker and into the net to make it 2-1.
After killing the four-minute penalty, the Maple Leafs' Antropov scored with 11 seconds left in the period.
He stole the puck from defenseman Cory Sarich, lost it as he skated toward Weekes and, with Sarich draped all over him, stuffed the puck under Weekes' stick for his third goal of the season.
Other than Richards' goal, the Lightning had one other chance to score when left wing Todd Warriner intercepted a pass in Toronto's zone with less than a minute left.
Warriner fired a slap shot but Joseph blocked it with his right pad.
Joseph continued his solid play in the third period, but was unable to stop Ryan Johnson with 2:48 remaining.
Johnson, with assists from Paul Mara and Zyuzin, slipped a wrist shot past Joseph into the right side to make it 3-2.
The Lightning finished 2-2-2 during its homestand and begins a four-game road trip at Carolina on Wednesday.