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St. Louis' hat trick propels Lightning

The SportsXchange

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are trying to build momentum as they prepare for their first playoff series in nine years. The Tampa Bay Lightning will stay home and prepare to build through the draft.

The opposite seemed true when the clubs met Wednesday night.

Martin St. Louis scored three goals, and Steven Stamkos added a goal and an assist to help the Lightning to a 5-2 victory.

Tampa Bay (18-24-4) halted a six-game losing streak.

"I'm really happy for my youngest son, Mason," St. Louis said, "because all year before I leave he tells me, 'Get a hat trick, Dad,' and I finally came through for him tonight."

With his seventh career hat trick -- the first this season by a Tampa Bay player -- St. Louis leads the NHL with 58 points, two ahead of Stamkos and Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby. Stamkos scored his 29th goal, moving him with two of league leader Alex Ovechkin of Washington.

St. Louis and Stamkos would be more enthused about the scoring race if the Lightning were not sitting out the postseason for the fifth time in six years.

"When you're not in the playoffs, you always wish you could do more, even if you are 1-2 in the league in scoring," Stamkos said. "It just doesn't feel the same if you're not contributing to wins."

The winning shot Wednesday was a blast by defenseman Radko Gudas from the top of the right circle three minutes into the third period, snapping a 2-2 tie. It was Gudas' second of the season, both at Toronto's expense.

Said Lightning coach Jon Cooper: "That was an absolute bomb."

St. Louis added two insurance goals, the second into an empty net with 2:49 remaining. He and Stamkos netted second-period goals with assists from Nate Thompson to give the Lightning a 2-1 advantage.

Tampa Bay nemesis Phil Kessel opened the scoring, snapping a shot from the left circle past the outstretched glove of goalie Ben Bishop with 2:57 left in the first period. The seventh-year center leads all Maple Leafs players with nine career goals against the Lightning.

"It was a little frustrating to go down 1-0 again," said Cooper, whose team has opened the scoring only once in its past eight games. "I feel like we're always playing from behind, but we didn't let it get past that. We played well. We played the whole 200 feet of the ice tonight, and it was fun to watch."

Stamkos tied the score with a backhander past goalie James Reimer at 5:54 of the second period. Ten minutes later, St. Louis exchanged passes with Thompson before making it 2-1 with a shot from the low slot.

Joffrey Lupul scored the other Toronto goal with 24 seconds to go in the second period, tying the score at 2.

"Our execution with the puck has to get better," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "We can't afford to make the mistakes that we made tonight in the postseason. We knew they were going to come out and skate hard, and we let them dictate the pace of the game."

Said Stamkos: "It's nice to win, and that's the mentality heading into every game. We're not going to just play dead and take our ball and go home. We're going to try to win. These fans deserve it. The city deserves it. In this organization, you play for the crest on the front of your jersey. You don't want to be embarrassed."

Embarrassing season aside, Cooper couldn't be more proud of his elite scorers.

"It's just a pleasure to have him on the team," he said of St. Louis. "When I step outside of the coaching realm, how can you not be a fan of what he does? He deserves all his accolades, and we needed a boost and he was there to give it to us."

Then there's Stamkos.

"You can pretty much put him in the same breath," Cooper said. "He had one, Marty has three, but they're both plus-4. Two top players like that, you can't ask for much more from them."

NOTES: Toronto goalie James Reimer, who stopped 49 of 50 shots at Ottawa on Saturday, allowed four goals among half as many shots Wednesday. ... Bishop made 26 saves. ... Defenseman Cody Franson played his 100th game for Toronto. ... Tampa Bay signed former Lightning defenseman Mathieu Roy on Tuesday for the final three games. Roy, who made 51 appearances this season in the German Elite League, was scratched. ... Tampa Bay will visit Boston on Thursday night to make up a game postponed by snow Feb. 9.
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