TORONTO—The Toronto Maple Leafs didn't let a late Tampa Bay rally affect their game plan last night.
Instead, they refocused to show they could compete with the top team in the Eastern Conference.
William Nylander scored twice and added an assist, and James van Riemsdyk scored the go-ahead goal in the third period, to lead Toronto to a 4-3 win over the Lightning.
“Everybody kind of just took a deep breath and went back to playing how we did in the first two periods,” said Auston Matthews, who had three assists.
“[We] took care of the puck a little more, [we] just got in deep, and obviously a big goal by James there.”
“We've found a rhythm and this is what we want to stick to,” noted Nylander.
Jake Gardiner also scored for the Leafs (34-19-5), who won their fifth-straight home game and eight of their last nine games overall.
Toronto gained two points on Tampa Bay and trail the Lightning by just six points for top spot in the Atlantic Division.
Frederik Andersen made 28 saves to earn his 28th win of the season.
Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, and Yanni Gourde scored for Tampa Bay (38-15-3).
Andrei Vasilevskiy made 19 saves in defeat.
The Leafs opened the scoring in the first period when Nylander picked up a pass from Matthews in the slot.
Nylander's one-timer beat Vasilevskiy.
Jake Gardiner picked up the secondary assist at 11:55.
The Leafs made it 2-0 early in the second period with Nylander's second goal of the game.
He picked up a lead pass from Matthews from centre ice and beat Vasilevskiy blocker side.
Mitch Marner picked up a secondary assist.
“I felt like he was creeping over [to the glove side] a lot there, so I just tried to sneak it by him,” Nylander said of the goal.
Gardiner added to Toronto's lead at 11:36 of the second when his wrist shot from inside the blueline went through Vasilevskiy's legs.
Nylander and Matthews each picked up an assist.
Tampa Bay replied with its first goal of the game when Killorn picked up the rebound from Brayden Point's initial shot and put the puck into a half-empty net at 15:59.
Kucherov narrowed Toronto's lead when he picked up a pass from Killorn and beat Andersen 58 seconds into the third period.
Gourde then tied the game just 20 seconds later—tipping Braydon Coburn's shot from the point past Andersen at 1:18.
Toronto took a 4-3 lead when van Riemsdyk's shot just squeezed past Vasilevskiy's pad at 4:37.
In the dying seconds and with their net empty, Tampa Bay had several scoring chances but Andersen made a couple of game-saving stops.
“We played well enough to get points out of this one, that's probably a little discouraging,” said Lightning head coach John Cooper.
“I thought their goaltender got them points.”
The game was seen as a potential playoff preview, with both teams showcasing offensive talent up front, tight defence, and solid goaltending.
Toronto squeaked into a wild-card playoff berth last season with a 40-27-15 record (95 points).
This season, Toronto is 20 points clear of a playoff spot with just 24 games left to play.
“We're a way better team than last year,” said Leafs' coach Mike Babcock.
“We play better each night because we have to because the opponent plays way better against us,” he added.
Elsewhere in the NHL, Florida topped Edmonton 7-5 and Arizona dumped Chicago 6-1.