Stajan, Kessel find chemistry

Phil Kessel celebrates the Leafs second goal against the Capitals during last night's game. (Craig...

Phil Kessel celebrates the Leafs second goal against the Capitals during last night's game. (Craig Robertson, QMI Agency)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 11:11 AM ET

The Maple Leafs couldn't contain Alexander Ovechkin last night.

But failing to keep the Washington Capitals superstar completely in check didn't matter.

The Leafs shrugged off both a three-point night by the world's most dangerous player and their 16th 2-0 deficit of the season, beating the Caps 6-3 at the Air Canada Centre.

Though Ovechkin and line mate Nicklas Backstrom provided some early highlights, it was the Leafs combo of Matt Stajan and Phil Kessel that shone in the crucial stages. Stajan had two goals and an assist, including the winner at 5:03 of the third period, and Kessel produced his first three-point night in a Toronto uniform with his first power-play goal of the season and two assists.

Linemate Alexei Poni karovsky had a goal and an assist, giving the threesome eight points against the top club in the National Hockey League's standings.

"There is a lot of skill in this room too -- I think we have shown that -- and it's great to see the goals going in for us," said Stajan, who is five goals off his career high of 16.

"I know (he and Kessel) are getting a feel for each other, and having Poni on our line is good because he is a big body."

Niklas Hagman and Lee Stempniak also scored for the Leafs, who fired 36 shots at Michal Neuvirth. The rookie goalie's shaky nerves were evident in the number of fat rebounds he allowed.

Importantly, with its third consecutive triumph at the ACC, Toronto finally is showing it can win at home.

Ovechkin had one goal for the visitors, Backstrom two. Ovechkin caused some consternation when he caught Wayne Primeau with a hip check, but Primeau did not have a problem with it.

There was more to the contribution of Stajan and his line mates than what appeared on the scoreboard. Coach Ron Wilson gave the trio the assignment of checking Ovechkin, Backstrom and Alexander Semin in the final 20 minutes. The Leafs responded with three goals to snap a 3-3 tie.

"In the third, Stajan's line played against those guys and that line never got a chance after that," Wilson said. "I challenged those guys to go head-to-head against their top line and we had the puck more.

"I was glad (the Capitals) came with everyone but, I guess, the goalie. That was the strongest lineup they have shown us this year and we won 6-3. It's great for our confidence."

In the opening period it seemed Ovechkin and Co. were going to run roughshod. Ovechkin scored the first goal at the two-minute mark and less than four minutes later, as many in the crowd of 19,316 were settling into their seats, Ovechkin found Backstrom for a 2-0 lead.

Toskala heard the Bronx cheer on his next save, but then made a few beauties. None was larger than the glove save he made on Semin, who had a clear-cut breakaway. Toskala then robbed Ovechkin with another glove save.

"Vesa made all the saves when we needed them," Wilson said. "I don't think (the Caps) are worried about defending, they are worried about scoring the next goal.

"(Vesa) got us out of the first, and from then we outscored them 6-1. From our point of view, that's a pretty dominating effort."

TERRY.KOSHAN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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