Toronto Star

Back-to-back Florida losses shot of reality for Leafs

- Rosie DiManno

TAMPA— Life gets loonier and loonier around the Leafs.

And you can’t even blame the latest goofery on one flu over the cuckoo’s nest.

The same team that leads the NHL in goals scored can barely cobble together double-digit shots on goal. If this were baseball, that would make for a hell of a batting average. They score lots. They don’t shoot much.

And here we thought the main problem was that they were giving up so many shots on goal, gobs of them, putting inordinate weight on their goalies — by which, let’s be frank, we mean Jonathan Bernier — to play the saviour.

“That seems to be our Achilles heel right now,” said Randy Carlyle after his team had just gone 0-for-Florida. “When we do get opportunit­ies we’re able to score, but we’re not getting enough of them.”

Live by the run ’n’ gun, die by the run ’n’ gun had been the recent mantra. Except there hasn’t actually been much scattersho­t lead in Toronto’s pistol of late.

Took them upwards of 30 minutes to rack up a dozen shots against the Lightning here on Monday evening. Yet only two shots for two goals.

Yes, the dreaded two-goal lead. By the 7:47 mark of the first period. Which meant almost an entire game yawning ahead for the Leafs to somehow cock it up, just like the night before.

Which they did, falling victim again to their young nemesis, Markham native Steven Stamkos, who scored the 3-2 winner on an impressive display of hand-eye coordinati­on, a deflection in the low slot on a shot from the point. Standing there unmolested, unguarded, all but unnoticed — and how can Stamkos ever go unnoticed? — by both Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson. Tampa’s 41st shot, tying a season high. Nearly nine minutes left, but the Leafs were done.

Leaf killer Steven Stamkos nets game winner for Lightning

“It was like we got scatterbra­ined for a bit in the second period,” said Carlyle. “Obviously they had more shots than we did and they controlled the puck more often, and they were hungrier than we were and they had better jump than we did, that’s for sure.”

And no Bernier, again, if purportedl­y recovering somewhat from his sudden bout of the flu. Can’t happen fast enough, as the Leafs continue their five games in seven nights road grind. Not that Bernier would have made the difference on this evening. James Reimer was solid enough.

The Leafs did come out with a head of steam to start the game, which was the opposite of how they went out Sunday against the Panthers. Couldn’t get any more efficient than two shots, two goals. A two-zip lead against the Atlantic Division leaders.

Even if typically outshot (15-4) in the opening frame, the Leafs made the bada-bing best out of their chances. Tampa was caught on a bad line change and the rearguards backing in when Mike Santorelli took a perfect pass on the tape from Nazem Kadri and wristed a shot high over the shoulder of Ben Bishop at 4:28.

Just three minutes later, it was Joffrey Lupul connecting for his ninth of the season, second in two nights. Lupul was left wide open in the slot to calmly collect Tyler Bozak’s feed from behind the net.

Thus the visitors quickly built up that scary two-goal lead, apparently an embarrassm­ent of riches for this befuddling club. The cushion was reassuring as Reimer fought the puck early in the game.

If Opie (as we call him) was dismayed about the limp endorsemen­t he’d received from Carlyle the night before — and what could Reimer expect after giving up three goals on five shots in the third as he and his team squandered a 4-2 lead against the Panthers — it was at least familiar territory. Reimer has been down this skeptical alley before. But with Bernier still unfit for duty, the bench boss had no option. Wasn’t about to throw Marlies call-up Christophe­r Gibson into the path of Stamkos et al.

“My job is to stop the puck,” said Reimer, shrugging off the quantity of rubber he’d faced over 48 hours. “My job’s to stop ’em whether there’s 10 shots a night or 100 shots a night.”

A couple of deflection­s and a tip-in and not enough time left for a pushback.

“Those are tough plays. You just want to try and get as much depth as you can and hopefully the puck hits you in those situations. I knew I made a bunch of saves like that all game, but some of them are bound to go in.”

Stamkos had gone three games without earning a single point prior to this affair. Historical­ly a Leafkiller — 14 goals and 26 points in 22 career games going into this one — he got the Tampa comeback cranking, one-timing a shot from near the dot on a power play that Ryan Callahan batted out of the air on the rebound to cut Toronto’s lead in half at 6:37 of the second period. That’s about when Leaf buttocks started clenching.

They put only a couple of more shots on the board through the midway point of the second. By then, the Lightning had tied it up 2-2, Valtteri Filppula getting credit for a goal off a shot from the point seemed to hit Reimer’s skate and go in.

After two, the Lightning had neverthele­ss more than doubled up Toronto on shots: 32-14. At the end: 41-23. And while not at all a clone of what had unfolded the night before in Sunrise — the difference, as Carlyle pointed out, was one powerplay goal for Tampa and none for the Leafs — the familiar pattern of “receiving the game” continues. Meaning, the other team has the puck much more of the time. Tampa’s strong forecheck prevented Toronto from busting through the neutral zone.

“It’s very frustratin­g,” said Phaneuf of the ridiculous shot statistics and puck-less play. “We’ve talked about it. We’ve given up far too many shots. Granted tonight it’s a back-toback game. They’re sitting here waiting. I think you could tell what team was fresher.”

Probably true, but still a lame rationaliz­ation.

“We seem to be very opportunis­tic to start the game. We had a . . . I wouldn’t say great start, but we had results. And the bottom line is we were up 2-0. But they kept coming, seemed to keep pushing and pushing. And really we just gave up too many chances. It is a back-to-back, but it’s still unacceptab­le to expect Reims to be, and have, that much workload.

“The bottom line is we have to cut down shots against.”

Bottom line, yes. But also a line we’ve all heard too often, for too long.

 ?? SCOTT AUDETTE/NHLI VIA GETTY IMAGES ?? Leaf Joffrey Lupul skates off as the Lightning celebrate goal in the second period of Monday night’s game in Tampa.
SCOTT AUDETTE/NHLI VIA GETTY IMAGES Leaf Joffrey Lupul skates off as the Lightning celebrate goal in the second period of Monday night’s game in Tampa.
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 ?? CHRIS O’MEARA/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Lightning centre Steven Stamkos strips the puck from Mike Santorelli of the Leafs in the opening period Monday.
CHRIS O’MEARA/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Lightning centre Steven Stamkos strips the puck from Mike Santorelli of the Leafs in the opening period Monday.

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