Shootout special for Leafs

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:48 AM ET

For one night, all those pitchforks and torches waving menacingly for a moonlight march on Bay St. turned back into blue and white pom-pons.

For one night, Vesa Toskala looked comfortable again in the Air Canada Centre, taking first star bows for his first win of the year, just the club's fourth.

For one night, the Leafs turned their helmets around in rally cap fashion and won a shootout, though turning around their season will be much, much harder.

"The hockey gods were with us," Matt Stajan said of a 2-1 win, but the Leafs were given full marks for effort, ending a five-game losing streak.

It didn't get them out of 30th place in the NHL and won't stop general manager Brian Burke from attempts to revamp the roster, but it showed they still care.

"We finally got (rewarded)," defenceman Ian White said. "Now we have to string a few together."

Despite some injuries, having played the night before and travelling, Ovechkin and company still might have viewed this as a guaranteed win. But he was kept in check by a combination of White, partner Francois Beauchemin and Stajan's line, with Phil Kessel one-on-one against him.

MOMENTARY LAPSE

The NHL's reigning MVP struck just once, when the Leafs new-look fourth line of Wayne Primeau, Jamal Mayers and Colton Orr had one of its few poor shifts. But Toskala made five stops on Ovechkin and forced him high on the shootout. The flipped lids on the bench in OT certainly hexed Eric Fehr of the Caps, who hit the crossbar late in regulation and had his stick snap in the shootout.

"We had to do something different," defenceman Tomas Kaberle said of the helmet change. "From now on, when a game goes to overtime, we have to do it again."

Toskala's personal shootout trauma had contributed to the Leafs awful record of 16-27 in tiebreakers.

"Nice to see him get a win for all his hard work," coach Ron Wilson said. "Beyond that first Bronx cheer he got (the 19,455 on hand knew full well he hasn't won this year and not since last Feb. 25 at home), he played well."

Kessel, meanwhile, buried his shootout chance on Semyon Varlamov, as did Niklas Hagman, after scoring a weird one in regulation on a Jason Blake shot that hit a Caps' defender, struck Hagman's hip and bounced in.

Stajan came up with the helmet gag and though Wilson was not about to equate it with Red Kelly's pyramid power, it had the desired psychological effect.

"In spite of what a lot of people believe, our attitude is good," Wilson said. "We took the game to them. You show Ovechkin too much respect, then you give him too much room. Francois came to me and said he wanted to play the whole game against him."

The Leafs, now 2-6-2 at home, had 39 shots on Varlamov, but missed another 23. All but the injured Jeff Finger, downed with a lower-body injury early in the game, had at least one shot.

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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