TORONTO — For the first time in his life, Steven Stamkos was booed by his hometown crowd at the Air Canada Centre.
It wasn’t loud, or long. Just a smattering of Maple Leafs fans who Tuesday night voiced what sounded like mild disappointment, as opposed to outright anger, that Stamkos spurned Toronto to re-sign with the Lightning in June.
“It motivates you a little bit when you hear that stuff,” Stamkos said, smiling.
Stamkos silenced those critics in a hurry.
Stamkos scored two goals on his first two shots, matching a career high with four points to lift the Lightning to an entertaining 7-3 win over the Maple Leafs.
It was Tampa Bay’s second consecutive win to start a six-game, 11-day road trip. But it was also quite a statement from Stamkos, who now has 38 points in 31 career games against the team he grew up loving — not to mention five goals in six games to start this season.
“I’m really happy for him,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I’m sure it was a tough decision for him. Plus, this is his hometown. Fans are entitled to do what they want. But I think Stammer is a great son to Toronto.”
Stamkos wasn’t completely surprised by the crowd’s reaction, saying they joked before the game a few boos might come.
And even after hearing some boos the first couple times he touched the puck, Stamkos reiterated he has no “ill will” to the city.
The boos stopped when Stamkos scored on his first shift, 79 seconds in, cashing in on a turnover by the Maple Leafs’ No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, Auston Matthews.
“I don’t know if you expect that, it couldn’t have happened any better,” Stamkos said. “You feel more confident when it happens.”
After Alex Killorn scored to make it 2-0, Stamkos struck again, this time with a rocket one-timer from the top of the right circle.
Then goaltender Ben Bishop helped give Stamkos and Tampa Bay (5-1) a satisfying ending with a stellar, under-the-radar performance.
Bishop made 40 saves, and lost two front teeth in the process.
With just under seven minutes left in the second period, Bishop took a partially-screened Petr Holland shot off his mask. Bishop shook out the two permanently fake crowns from his mask, center Brian Boyle picking up one off the ice.
“It was a little painful, not too bad,” Bishop said. “I just hope we can get this fixed so I don’t look like this.”
Quipped Cooper: “I couldn’t believe how big Ben’s teeth actually are. Apparently they’re fake anyways.”
Bishop stayed in the game and finished off the Maple Leafs, who outshot Tampa Bay 43-24 and put on a furious, third-period rally to pull within two with 10 minutes to go.
After Toronto cut the lead to 5-3, Vladislav Namestnikov and Jonathan Drouin scored to seal this one. Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman also scored, Stamkos picking up the assists.
Stamkos finished with a plus-minus rating of plus-4, one off his career best of plus-5 set April 24, 2013 against, who else? The Leafs.
And as Stamkos returned to the ice Tuesday after being named the game’s No. 1 star, there were still a couple boos.
But mostly, there were cheers.
Lightning 3 1 3 7
Maple Leafs 0 1 2 3
First—1, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 4 (Sustr), 1:19. 2, Tampa Bay, Killorn 5 (Coburn, Point), 7:15. 3, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 5 (Kucherov, Sustr), 17:12. Penalties—None.
Second—4, Tampa Bay, Hedman 1 (Kucherov, Stamkos), 7:23. 5, Toronto, Nylander 4 (Kadri, Matthews), 19:03 (pp). Penalties—Filppula, TB, (hooking), 0:16; Toronto bench, served by Holland (too many men on the ice), 2:26; Nesterov, TB, (holding stick), 17:41.
Third—6, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 1 (Stamkos, Namestnikov), 6:45. 7, Toronto, Van riemsdyk 3 (Rielly, Zaitsev), 8:28. 8, Toronto, Matthews 6 (Nylander), 9:47. 9, Tampa Bay, Namestnikov 2 (Stralman, Johnson), 15:10 (pp). 10, Tampa Bay, Drouin 2 (Kucherov), 15:56 (pp). Penalties—Nesterov, TB, (holding), 1:47; Garrison, TB, (holding), 11:12; Marner, TOR, major (high sticking), 13:26; Kadri, TOR, (slashing), 19:29. Shots—Tampa Bay 9-6-9—24. Toronto 14-12-17—43. Power plays—Tampa Bay 2 of 4; Toronto 1 of 4. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 3-1-0 (43 shots-40 saves). Toronto, Andersen 1-1-3 (24-17). A—19,449 (18,819). T—2:42. Referees—Kendrick Nicholson, Dan O’Rourke. Linesmen—Scott Cherrey, Trent Knorr.