Martin St. Louis was a one-man wrecking crew in the first period Thursday night, posting four points as the Tampa Bay Lightning struck down the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-4 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Toronto took a 1-0 lead, but St. Louis erased the early deficit by scoring one goal and setting up three others in a span of four minute 13 seconds.
"I just felt good tonight," said St. Louis, who leads the Lightning with 54 points.
"Tonight, everthing I touched early on, something happened. You build off that and you get confident and you get arrogant in your play."
"Marty definitely had a different gear than everybody out there," Lightning forward Ryan Malone said. "He was buzzing."
Malone tallied twice in 54 seconds and Mark Recchi had the other first-period goal for the Lightning.
Rookie Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier scored in the third period as Tampa Bay crept to within one point of Toronto and 11th place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Lecavalier finished with one goal and one assist.
Rookie netminder Mike McKenna made 21 saves and even notched an assist in improving to 2-1-1 in five NHL appearances.
Vesa Toskala started in net for the Maple Leafs and yielded four goals on 12 shots before being yanked in favour of backup Curtis Joseph, who faced 19 shots.
"We didn't get a save when we needed it," Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said.
Lee Stempniak scored twice, Niklas Hagman had a goal and an assist and rookie Nikolai Kulemin rounded out the scoring for Toronto, which trimmed it to 4-3 in the second period but faltered in the third.
"We're scoring four or five goals and that is not enough to get two points, let alone one," Wilson said. "As the game wore on, we never gave up.
"We found a way to get back in the game. But then it got away from us."
'I couldn't make the saves'
Stempniak opened the scoring 10:58 into the contest on a snap shot from the circle that found the far corner high to McKenna's glove side.
But the rest of the first period belonged to St. Louis, a former Hart Trophy winner as the NHL's top performer.
First, he set up Lukas Krajicek for a point shot that was tipped by Malone for the tying goal at 12:30.
Then, St. Louis fed the puck in front to Malone, who buried it for his second tally in just 54 seconds.
The Lightning extended their lead less than two minutes later as Lecavalier sent a soft pass to Recchi and he scored in one motion from the high slot to make it 3-1.
St. Louis earned the other assist on the power-play goal, and scored a beauty of his own with 3:17 left in the period.
Taking a pass from Recchi in full flight at centre ice, he burst between a trio of flat-footed Maple Leafs and beat Toskala with a sharp-angled backhand shot to reach the 20-goal plateau for the sixth straight season.
"I couldn't make the saves we need to keep us in the game," said Toskala, who was replaced by Joseph at that point.
'It was pretty cool to get one by him'
The switch seemed to spark Toronto.
Stempniak scored a power-play goal on a slapshot that squirted under McKenna's armpit 11:32 into the second period, and Hagman turned Krajicek inside out and found the far corner on a quick shot 74 seconds later.
Stempniak and Hagman have 10 and 17 goals, respectively.
But Stamkos stickhandled into the offensive zone and surprised Joseph high to the glove side with a powerful snap shot for his seventh, a power-play goal six minutes into the third period.
"I grew up watching the Leafs and idolizing them," Stamkos said. "He [Joseph] was a big part of their great teams, so it was pretty cool to get one by him."
"Every day he is learning," Lightning interim head coach Rick Tocchet said of Stamkos, chosen No. 1 overall in last June's draft. "He added that youthfulness that we needed tonight."
Lecavalier and Kulemin swapped late goals to complete the scoring.