And even then it still seemed a little surreal.
The Toronto forward found himself tied for third in NHL scoring after putting up a goal and three assists in the Maple Leafs’ 7-1 victory over the reeling Washington Capitals on Saturday night.
“I didn’t (expect) that in a million years,” Lupul said. “I felt good and I was confident and I knew I was going to have a good year. I didn’t expect to be at the top of the league in point scoring, but it’s a long year and hopefully I can stay there.”
He’s currently in pursuit of linemate Phil Kessel(notes), who had a goal and an assist to boost his league-leading totals in goals (14) and points (27). Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux(notes) is second with 26 points, while Lupul and Buffalo’s Tomas Vanek are tied with 24.
Lupul has far exceeded expectations since being acquired from Anaheim in a Feb. 9 trade. The 28-year-old sat out almost a full calendar year with back woes before returning to the Ducks’ lineup in December 2010. Prospect Jake Gardiner(notes) was considered the real prize when Toronto acquired him and Lupul for Francois Beauchemin(notes) a couple months later.
“I have a lot of confidence right now because we’ve been getting some results,” Lupul said. “I could tell right from training camp I felt pretty good. I was confident with my game, I was confident with the way my body felt for the first time in a long time. Things went pretty well.
“I didn’t expect this type of start, but I did expect myself to play well.”
He was all over the ice against Washington, stealing the puck before setting up Tim Connolly(notes) for a goal just 1:39 in and later tipping home one of Toronto’s three power-play goals in the second period. Lupol also drew assists on goals by linemates Kessel and Tyler Bozak(notes).
It was exactly the kind of pressure-relieving performance the banged-up Leafs needed. Forced to ice a lineup missing seven players due to injury, contributions came from some unexpected places as well. Maligned goalie Jonas Gustavsson(notes) tied a career high with 40 saves, Matt Frattin(notes) scored his first NHL goal and Cody Franson(notes) chipped in his first as member of the Maple Leafs.
“We didn’t really have too much secondary the last four games,” Frattin said. “It kind of hurt us because (opponents) were getting leads and we couldn’t really come back because we couldn’t get one in the net. Today it looked like every line was firing.”
Connolly, Bozak and David Steckel had the other goals for the Leafs. Toronto improved to 11-7-2, winning for the first time in its last five games at Air Canada Centre.
“It feels like the end of the world but it’s not the end of the world,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
“I think we have lots of skills on this team and all the lines can score goals, as you’ve seen in the first 10 games I think,” Ovechkin said. “Right now nobody can score and it’s just frustrating that when we have the opportunity to shoot, we’re squeezing the sticks to hard. It’s hard.
“It’s something you have to fight and work harder.”
Toronto chased Capitals starter Tomas Vokoun(notes) early in the second period and put a punctuation on the victory with a breakaway goal by Steckel on Michal Neuvirth(notes) in the final minute. The long-time Caps player was thrilled after ending an 11-game scoring drought.
“It was huge for me,” Steckel said. “I mean I know it was 7-1, (but) it was short-handed, it was against my old team and I was just happy. It felt good.”
NOTES: The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to former Toronto goalie Johnny Bower during a stoppage in play. He turned 87 on Nov. 8. … With Komisarek out, John-Michael Liles(notes) wore an ‘A’ for Toronto. … Capitals defenseman Mike Green(notes) sat out with a groin injury. They’re 2-7-1 without him this season. … Steckel played 291 games with Washington from 2005 to 2011.