Leafs climb over 'Canes

Leafs’ Jason Blake moves the puck up the ice against Carolina’s Erik Cole in Raleigh, N.C., last...

Leafs’ Jason Blake moves the puck up the ice against Carolina’s Erik Cole in Raleigh, N.C., last night. (ELLEN OZLER/Reuters)

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Jason Blake got the winner but Jonas Gustavsson earned the save.

A whole bunch of them, in fact.

The result was a 3-2 road win over the tepid Carolina Hurricanes last night after the Maple Leafs got the game-stealing goaltending they have been predicting the Monster could deliver.

Jason Blake's winner with 8:24 remaining sent the 'Canes to an 11th consecutive loss and moved the Leafs two points in front of their hosts, who now have sole possession of the NHL basement.

The win didn't come without a heart-stopping final 20 seconds when Gustavsson had to make a couple final saves with defenceman Francois Beauchemin in the penalty box and Cam Ward yanked to give the 'Canes another extra attacker.

"He has been huge for us the last five or six games, he just never gives up on a play," Leafs defenceman Mike Komisarek said of Gustavsson's play. "Even in practice, you think you have him beat and he just slides over and makes a big save."

The turnover prone Leafs were outshot 18-8 in the third period, but the rookie Swede stood even taller than his 6-foot-3 frame. That kept his team in it and when they moved on to the power play, the offence seized on the chance Gustavsson provided.

Blake scooped up a rebound on a point shot from Lee Stempniak and banged it off the post behind Ward for his second of the season. Linemate Phil Kessel got an assist on the winner, his first point as a Leaf.

The Leafs won for just the second time in 14 starts as they snapped a four-game losing streak. They also have points in six consecutive games.

After giving up a bad-rebound goal to Sergei Samsonov in the first period as the Leafs dug themselves into a 2-0 hole after 20 minutes, Gustavsson played the best of his fledgling career.

"In the third period, he made a couple of big saves and the whole bench gets pretty excited when they see some of the saves he can pull off," Wilson said.

John Mitchell got Toronto on the scoreboard with his first of the season 1:12 into the second. Mitchell fired a long-range shot that Ward should have had.

"Hopefully they can come in bunches now," Mitchell said.

Nikolai Kulemin drew the Leafs even with his third of the season at 7:23 of the second on a nice feed from linemate Alexei Ponikarovsky to set up a third period in which something had to break.

With the Leafs on a four-game losing streak and the 'Canes on 10, the Leafs seized the opportunity when Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour was sent off for holding at 10:52.

Gustavsson has been in the net for both Leafs wins and evened his record to 2-2-3.

"It was great to get two points on the road and maybe we can build off this," said Gustavsson, whose goals against average is now 2.84. "It's good for our confidence knowing we can get back in games."

Better for his teammates who realize they may have the guy to keep them in them.

ROB.LONGLEY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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