Jay McClement doesn’t score highlight-reel goals.

The Maple Leafs centre knows it, his teammates know it, fans know it.

But the wily veteran has a few tricks after eight-plus seasons in the National Hockey League and unveiled one against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.

McClement reached around goaltender Cedrick Desjardins with a deke and tucked the puck into the far side of the net on a backhand early in the third period, a goal that stood as the winner in the Leafs’ 4-1 victory.

“A lot of guys didn’t think I had it in my tool box,” McClement said with a smile. “The boys were giving it to me a little bit. I think I surprised a lot of them.”

It was just the third goal in 58 games this season for McClement, but most importantly, it helped the Leafs shed not only a slow start, but the ugly loss in Florida against the Panthers two nights earlier.

As their dads watched from a private box at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the Leafs outshot their opponent for just the third time in the past 15 games. Jonathan Bernier made 33 saves, losing his shutout bid when rookie Ondrej Palat scored midway through the third period after the Leafs had taken a 3-0 lead.

With just one game left before the Olympic break, on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre against the Vancouver Canucks, the Leafs are one point behind the third-place Lightning in the Eastern Conference.

“We needed a response from our effort the other night and we got it,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “If you don’t have goaltending, you don’t have a starting point in the NHL. We’re not any different than any other club.”

The Leafs went about their 10th win in 13 games in an unconventional manner. Carlyle, saying he wanted to create more offensive balance, used 11 forwards and seven defencemen, a rare turn away from the usual 12/six split, and it worked. Jerred Smithson and Colton Orr were scratched, while defenceman Paul Ranger played after sitting out 14 in a row.

David Clarkson was effective on a line with Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul, and Nikolai Kulemin centred the third line with Mason Raymond and Troy Bodie. Kulemin won just three of 14 faceoffs, but had chemistry with his new linemates.

A Kulemin pass to Raymond resulted in the Leafs’ first goal at 7:57 of the second period.