TORONTO (AP) — Nazem Kadri passed another test with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The talented 22-year-old Kadri had three assists and Joffrey Lupul added a goal and an assist as the Toronto Maple Leafs snapped a five-game winless skid with a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night.
Kadri, a hot-button topic for the Maple Leafs in the past, leads the team in scoring with 30 points on 11 goals and 19 assists. And coach Randy Carlyle said his plan is to put Kadri’s line — which includes Lupul and Nikolai Kulemin — against the opposition’s top trio.
“We knew we had to come out with our foot on the gas pedal right away,” said Kadri, who pointed to good chemistry with Lupul. “We’re pretty much on the same page offensively. We know where each other are going to be before we’re there.”
Well, the trio got the job done against the Lightning’s top line of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Cory Conacher. Stamkos, the league’s top goal-scorer, was limited to one shot.
“We’re going to test Kadri against the best players,” Carlyle said. “He wants that, he cherishes it and tonight it worked for him.”
Kulemin, Dion Phaneuf and Tyler Bozak also scored for Toronto. Kadri’s three points tied a career high, and he had a chance at a fourth point but was hauled down in front of the goal by Teddy Purcell midway through the third period.Former coach Ron Wilson complained about Kadri’s defense, but Carlyle said the youngster was never negligent in that area.
“The biggest emergence of Nazem Kadri is where and when in the game to try to use the skill moves,” Carlyle said. “He was always good defensively. … What happens in your transition from junior to pro hockey, it’s the number of times that you expose yourself to the high risk, high reward and where you do and when you do it on the ice.
“That’s really been the learning curve for Nazie. We always knew that he had skill.”
Rookies Radko Gudas and Cory Conacher scored for Tampa Bay in the third, spoiling James Reimer’s shutout attempt.
The Leafs, outshot 28-26, had been off since a 5-4 shootout loss to the visiting Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, with their last win coming March 6 — a 5-4 decision over visiting Ottawa.
Toronto gave up 16 goals during the slide with Reimer, 0-1-2 during that run, allowing eight goals on 76 shots.
Tampa Bay, while 4-6-0 in its last 10, came into the game off back-to-back wins over Carolina and Philadelphia that saw it score four goals in each game. The Lightning were without star forward Vincent Lecavalier, who reportedly suffered a broken left foot March 12 against Florida.
“It took us too much time to get our legs,” Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said. “We’re a hard-working fast team and it didn’t look like that the first half.
“We looked like we were waiting to see what was going to happen out there,” he added. “I don’t know if it was because the guys froze or it was a road game —I can’t tell you. But it wasn’t a good game to start.”
The game marked the return this season of 22-year-old defenseman Jake Gardiner, a member of the all-rookie team last season who has been playing in the American Hockey League for the Toronto Marlies this season after recovering from a concussion.
Lupul — making his 99th appearance as a Leaf — opened the scoring at 6:56 of the first period, completing a nifty tic-tac-toe passing play with Kadri and Carl Gunnarson that found him alone in front of Mathieu Garon as checker Alex Killorn went walkabout. It was Lupul’s third goal in two games since returning from a broken forearm.
Mikhail Grabovski’s power-play goal later in the period was negated by a tripping call on Lupul.It took Tampa 10 minutes to record a shot on goal. Toronto eventually outshot Tampa 8-6 after 20 minutes but the home net was hardly a stronghold.
Defenseman Mark Fraser pushed Toronto’s league-leading number of fighting majors to 30 early in the second period when he tangled — successfully — with B.J. Crombeen. Seconds later, Phaneuf added to the Leafs lead with a rising slap shot from the point for his fifth of the season at 52 seconds.
Bozak, with his eighth of the year, made it 3-0 after Kessel controlled a rebound at 6:53 and fed it to his center who was alone in front. Kulemin then padded Toronto’s lead to 4-0 with his fourth on the season after neatly evading the trailing Gudas and snapping a wrist shot from the slot at 7:22.
That chased Garon, who gave up four goals on 14 shots, in favor of Anders Lindback.Lupul was front and center throughout the night, sent to the penalty box early in the third for an illegal hit to the head that floored defenseman Victor Hedman. Lupul hit Hedman with his shoulder, leaving the big Swede dazed.
“By no means did I go after him and try and hit him in the head,” Lupul said.
Garon returned to goal in the third period, as Lindback went to the dressing room. Boucher called it a lower-body injury.
“Hopefully it’s not something that’s going to keep him out for long,” Boucher said. “He was doing really good for us his last four or five starts. Hopefully it won’t last very long.”
Tampa, 0 for 4 with the man advantage, was unable to profit from two early power plays in the third period. But Gudas made it 4-1 with a shot from the point that went through traffic at 7:44 for his first career goal. Garon then returned to goal, as Lindback went to the dressing room.
Conacher scored his eighth of the season at 17:02, tipping in a pass from Tyler Johnson in front, to cut the lead to 4-2.
NOTES: The contest was the first stop on a three-game Canadian trip for the Lightning, who play in Ottawa on Saturday and Winnipeg on Sunday. … The Lightning downed the Maple Leafs 4-2 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Feb. 19 … Conacher, a native of Burlington, Ontario, had a 62-person suite for friends and family at the ACC. … The Leafs placed defenseman Mike Komisarek on waivers.