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Lupul's new line lifts Leafs past Lightning

The SportsXchange

TORONTO -- When it became clear that James van Riemsdyk had replaced the injured Joffrey Lupul on the Maple Leafs' first line with Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak, where a healthy Lupul might play became a topic of discussion around the team.

Two games since returning from a broken arm, it appears that question has been answered, as Lupul has quickly found chemistry with Nazem Kadri and Nikolai Kulemin.

The trio combined for six points as the Maple Leafs snapped a five-game losing streak with a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.

"He's a really talented guy, and the thing I like about playing with him is he always wants the puck, he puts himself in a situation where he can get it and calls for it," said Lupul of Kadri, who finished with three assists. "Every shift, whether he's made a mistake the shift before or done something great the shift before, he's going to keep playing the same way."

The Lighning (13-16-1) had won three of their previous four games. The Maple Leafs (16-12-2) won for the first time since beating the Ottawa Senators on March 6.

Lupul opened the scoring seven minutes into the first period, re-directing a Kadri feed past Mathieu Garon.

Kadri then helped setup Dion Phaneuf's fifth of the season 52 seconds into the second period. The Leafs captain one-timed a Carl Gunnarsson feed past Garon.

Six minutes later, Tyler Bozak made it 3-0, chasing Garon, who allowed three goals on 13 shots. Kulemin beat Anders Lindback with a wrist shot glove-side, giving Toronto a 4-0 lead after 40 minutes.

"We're communicating on the bench. Kulemin is a big part of it, too," Lupul said. "He's winning races, he made a great move on his goal, but we can get better for sure, there's little plays there to be made and things all three of us can do better."

It might've taken a blind-side hit to the head by Lupul on Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman to slow the line down. Lupul was assessed a minor penalty. Hedman briefly left the game but did return.

Hedman was not available for comment after the game, but Lupul didn't feel as if he caught the Swedish blue-liner in the head.

"I was back-checking, and I believe it was Naz had him angled and then (Hedman) kind of cut to the middle -- at the end, I wasn't even truly tracking him to go hit him, he just kind of came back into me," Lupul said. "I saw he was hurt. By no means did I go after him and try and him in the head."

Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher refrained from commenting for fear of a fine, but he did say, "I'm sure (the league) is going to look at it."

After Radko Gudas got the Lightning on the board eight minutes into the third, Lindback left the game with what Boucher called a lower-body injury. Garon finished the game.

Martin St. Louis set up rookie Cory Conacher for Tampa Bay's second goal. St. Louis now has 15 points during an 11-game stretch.

Lightning center Steven Stamkos, who had 23 points in his last 17 games, was held without a point.

Defenseman Jake Gardiner, who was making his first start with the Maple Leafs since Jan. 24, led Toronto skaters with 8:14 of ice time in the first period.

"It felt good, it's pretty easy playing with (John-Michael) Liles, he's a great player, talks a lot," said Gardiner who finished with 19:20 of ice time. "I'm not a rookie anymore, but he's just a very vocal guy and he talks to you a lot and helps you out. It's nice to have him as my partner."

Gardiner is no stranger to leading his team in ice time. Dallas Eakins, the coach of Toronto's AHL affiliate, the Marlies, regularly used just five defensemen this season, allowing Gardiner to play nearly 30 minutes a game.

NOTES: The Maple Leafs placed defenseman Mike Komisarek on waivers Wednesday morning. Komisarek has been a healthy scratch since playing Feb. 2. "Given that we've been in a position to trade him for a while now, it wouldn't surprise me if he clears (waivers)," Leafs GM Dave Nonis said. ... Coming into Wednesday's game, Toronto had surrendered a combined 20 goals during an 0-3-2 skid after starting the season 15-9-0 and holding opponents to an average of just 2.5 goals per game. ... The Maple Leafs won all four meetings between the two teams last season. ... At 23 years, 41 days, Stamkos became the fourth youngest player to reach 200 goals. ... Gardiner had 30 points as a Maple Leafs rookie last year.
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