BY: John Mamola

Steven Stamkos celebrated a date with the Maple Leafs in his hometown of Toronto scoring a natural hat trick leading his Tampa Bay Lightning to a 5-3 win over the Leafs.  The victory was the first for the Lightning in Toronto in more than three years and is a key two points to further separate themselves from the Leafs in the race for playoff positioning.

The Bolts didn’t waste any time getting on the board in the first period as Radko Gudas flicked a wrist shot from the blue line, which to the surprise of many including Leafs goaltender James Reimer snuck its way into the net.  Gudas third goal of the season put the Bolts up by one with just under a minute gone by in the first period. 

The Leafs answered back three minutes later as they took advantage of some sloppy defense by the Lightning right in front of Ben Bishop.  A loose puck found its way to the stick of Phil Kessel who tapped in his 35th goal of the season tying the game at one.  Toronto added a second tally at the mid way point of the first on a redirected shot by Tim Gleason that found the stick of Nikolai Kulemin putting the Leafs up 2-1.

Another blown lead for the Lightning was quickly retaken as Steven Stamkos put the Bolts on his shoulders and scored the next three goals of the game for a natural hat trick.  Stamkos’ seventh career hat trick gave the Bolts a 4-2 advantage as the Lightning captain found the back of the net twice on one timer shots and his third on a rebound shot in front of the net.

Steven Stamkos now has scored five goals in seven games since his return from a broken leg injury.

The Maple Leafs made it a 4-3 game on a wrap around goal by Jake Gardiner, but that’s when Ben Bishop stepped up and sealed the game for the Bolts.  Bishop finished the game with 36 saves including 21 saves in a highly offensive third period for the Leafs.   Tyler Johnson wrapped up the scoring for Tampa Bay scoring his 22nd goal of the season, which is one goal shy of Steven Stamkos’ Lightning rookie record for a season.

The Lightning improved their record to 14-2-0 when Steven Stamkos scores a point in a game.  Ondrej Palat was held without a point snapping his five game points streak, as Ben Bishop notched his 33rd win of the season in net which ranks fourth in the NHL.

The Lightning have a short turnaround as they will fly overnight to Ottawa to duel with the Senators on Thursday night.  You can catch the coverage on WFLA (970AM) beginning at 7:00pm.

**NOTES** - Maple Leafs defenseman Paul Ranger left the game near the end of the first period after he was checked into the boards by Alex Killorn.  Ranger went into the boards head first and left the ice in a neck brace on a stretcher.  Killorn was given a five minute major for boarding and a game misconduct.  Maple Leafs PR reported at the beginning on the third period that Ranger was taken to local hospital for precautionary assessment this evening during tonight's game. He is stable, conscious and alert according to the team.