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article imageLightning strikes in Toronto as Leafs drop third straight Special

By Dave Pitman     Mar 19, 2014 in Sports
Toronto - The window of opportunity grows smaller with each passing game for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they let another Atlantic Division rival take valuable points away, falling 5-3 to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The night began with plenty of offensive fire power as five goals came on the first 15 shots, but with four seconds left in the first, the tone in the Air Canada Centre changed completely. Playing the puck behind the net, Toronto defenceman Paul Ranger was taken into the boards head first on a hit from Alex Killorn that left Ranger motionless on the ice for quite some time. Ranger would eventually be carried out on a stretcher and has since been cleared as stable, conscious and alert.
Many Tampa Bay forwards stayed on the ice with the Leafs players as they watched one of their peers being carried off. It was a frightening scene, one that effected everyone who witnessed it, including Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul.
"We just hope [Ranger] is okay… That's scary, that's one of your teammates… your friend, a guy you see everyday and obviously it didn't look great when he was leaving the ice. You try to clear your head and focus on the next period but part of you is wondering what's going on with him."
Sitting one point behind Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division entering the game, Toronto prepared to finish off their 14th set of back-to-backs this season with James Reimer starting in goal, his fifth consecutive appearance. On the other end, Ben Bishop would get the call. Bishop became Tampa Bay's all-time leader for wins in a season with 31 on Saturday, he currently sits second in the NHL in shut-outs with five this year.
The goals came quickly from the start. Less than one minute into the game, Radko Gudas squeaked a point shot by Reimer for his third of the season on Tampa Bay's first shot of the night. The lead would not last long, however, as just two minutes later Phil Kessel broke his four game scoreless drought, his longest of the season, for his 35th of the year. Soon after, Tim Gleason let a slap-pass go from the blue line that would find Nikolai Kulemin's stick to re-direct it in. The goal was just Kulemin's second in his last 18 games. Toronto would find themselves getting into penalty trouble early and Markham native Steven Stamkos took full advantage. Completing the one-timer, Stamkos wired his first of the game to tie it, and scored his second shortly after to put Tampa Bay ahead late in the first, before the Paul Ranger injury.
Toronto would start the second period on a five minute power play carried over from Killorn's game misconduct at the end of the first period. The Leafs, who boast the NHL's best power play when playing at home, would only muster two shots, taking a tripping penalty of their own. Just over five minutes into the frame, Steven Stamkos added to his already impressive performance completing the hat trick to put the Lightning up 4-2.
With momentum clearly on Tampa Bay's side, David Clarkson would attempt to get his team mates fired up by dropping the gloves, and promptly dropping B.J. Crombeen with a solid right hand. Clarkson has now gone 11 games in a row without scoring a point, and the Leafs would finish the second period without hitting the score sheet as well, being out shot 22-17 in the process.
During the second intermission, it was announced that Paul Ranger was stable, conscious and alert in a nearby hospital. Great news, news that seemed to sway momentum back into Toronto's favour as they would out-shoot Tampa Bay 13-2 before Jake Gardiner scored his fifth goal in his last seven games to bring the Leafs to within one. That's as close as they would come, however, as another ill-advised Leafs penalty led to a Tyler Johnson power play mark to seal the win for Tampa Bay.
The victory gives the Lightning a three point cushion over Toronto in the Atlantic. The Maple Leafs have seen themselves drop a few spots in the standings over the last week, something that hasn't gone unnoticed in the Toronto locker room.
"Were just getting exposed…" said Joffrey Lupul post game. When asked what the remedy was, Lupul offered his thoughts, "First, just get rest. Its been a gruelling stretch, a ton of travel… First thing is take tomorrow off, get some rest and come back re-focused and get some of that confidence back."
"I don't think anyone tries to injure another person, or hurt somebody like that… I don't know the exact state [Ranger] is in but obviously praying for him and hoping he's alright.." James Reimer told reporters post game.
Reimer faced 30 shots, allowing five goals on the night. The loss was Reimer's third in his last three games. When asked how he felt about his year amidst all the goalie controversy, Reimer offered an honest reflection of his season thus far.
"Its been a real test of character, I learned a lot about perseverance and endurance and fighting through adversity.. It really hasn't gone the way I'd hoped, I haven't played up to my capability the last little while, so its tough. It's not for lack of effort, or a lack of passion or desire.. I'm working hard, trying to stay positive and believing in myself and I fully believe things will turn around."
Just one day prior, Randy Carlyle had assessed Reimer's play as "OK" after the loss in Detroit, a comment that spread across the Internet like wild fire. Coach Carlyle was again asked of his net minders play during his post game presser, but this time around the aggravated coach chose to keep his comments to himself.
"I get in trouble when I comment on goalies with you guys"
Toronto plays host to the Montreal Canadiens Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre, a game that Lupul calls "the biggest game of the season." Montreal is currently tied with Tampa Bay with 83 points, three more than Toronto, with one game in hand.
Randy Carlyle looks ahead to Saturday confident that his team will be well rested and ready to play.
"We just came off a ten day road trip.. It's not an excuse, but its a trying situation, its not easy."
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