SUN Hockey Pool

Back-to-back to winning ways

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:11 AM ET

EDMONTON -- For some strange reason, the Maple Leafs take about 48 hours to get warmed up to play some of their finest hockey.

But having Mikael Tellqvist to fall back on makes it worth the wait for coach Pat Quinn, as Toronto improved to 8-1 this season in the second of back-to-back games with a nail-biting 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers last night.

Four of those back-end victories belong to Tellqvist.

The 26-year-old Swede was the most demonstrative anyone has seen him at the final horn, raising his hands in triumph as the team mobbed him.

"Right now, this is the most important win of the season for me," said Tellqvist, who made 36 saves. "We needed this win because we're on this trip and we didn't want to lose two games in a row (heading into Vancouver on Tuesday)."

Typically, everything that had vexed the Leafs in a 1-0 loss in Calgary the night before was reversed, although great goaltending was a constant. Tellqvist was hot in relief of Ed Belfour, fending off the fast and physical Oilers to improve to 6-3-1 -- as many wins as inefficient backup Trevor Kidd had in a full season in 2003-04.

"He has been solid in all but one of his games, really," Quinn said. "We have a lot of back-to-backs to go (10) and he'll probably play more than you'd expect for a backup to Ed. He's developing and improving all the time. He's the real deal."

Tellqvist stopped a Chris Pronger rocket in traffic early in the game and foiled Shawn Horcoff with his quick mitt in the third. The Leafs also had to weather a late Alex Khavanov penalty incurred on a Raffi Torres breakaway.

Where Miikka Kiprusoff had stoned them the previous night, the Leafs took full advantage of the Oilers' weakness in net. They beat Ty Conklin on two of six first-period shots with Darcy Tucker and Matt Stajan scoring, while Chad Kilger buried a fat rebound early in the third for insurance. A loud Leafs throng among the crowd of 16,839 on hand helped keep the visiting team pumped.

"We had to have that goaltending, because we weren't at our best," Tucker said of his team's 19 shots. "But we battled hard, our penalty killing was outstanding (5-for-5) and we had a power-play goal (his own)."

Tucker said Horcoff's goal late in the second was a key.

"Maybe earlier in the year that might have bothered us," Tucker said. "But the guys were great talking in the room between periods and Chad got the big goal."

Toronto's power play had not been blanked in three consecutive games this season and it rescued the streak in the first period when Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle set up Tucker.

Quinn's choice of goaltenders in Alberta was an interesting one, given Belfour's outstanding career numbers against the Oilers (30-8-7 with a 2.19 goals-against average). "We talked about it a week ago and though we could've (stayed with Belfour) the way Ed played in Calgary, Mikael had been promised the start," Quinn said.

Some Leafs laziness led to Horcoff's goal, while Smyth's backboard bounce hit Tellqvist's skate and banked in at 14:33 of the third.


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