BUFFALO — Goat Island is a small, uninhabited piece of land located in the middle of Niagara Falls.
Friday, it also was the area of blue paint in the goaltender’s crease, with Vesa Toskala as the lone resident.
The Maple Leafs netminder offered little resistance as four goals flowed past him in a span of 11 minutes, 16 seconds in the second period, giving the Buffalo Sabres all they required for a 5-2 win over Toronto at the HSBC Arena.
The outburst came on just six shots, drowned a 1-0 Leafs lead thanks to Viktor Stalberg’s first NHL goal and led to the yanking of Toskala in favour of Jonas Gustavsson, who made his first appearance since leaving a game on Dec. 1 with heart problems.
“We’re not getting any saves, everybody gets shaky and you suffer breakdowns trying to run around,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “If you make mistakes, you have to buckle down and get the job done. Unfortunately, (Toskala) did not and I had to get him out of there.”
Remember the embarrassing goal Toskala allowed to New York Islanders defenceman Rob Davison in March 2008? Davison’s shot from 197 feet skipped past Toskala one night on Long Island, making the goalie the butt of jokes and giving him a spot on highlight reels.
Well, Toskala came close to outdoing himself. Derek Roy scored on a slapper from the slot at 1:32 to tie the game on a goal that was legitimate, even if Jochen Hecht interfered with Toskala’s stick, something Wilson played down.
The next goal, the first of the season for defenceman Toni Lydman, was not legit. Lydman skated into the Leafs zone and dumped the puck at Toskala, a shot that the goalie stuck out his glove to snare. It’s a save Toskala made hundreds of times. But the puck bounced off Toskala’s glove and into the net, horrifying the Leafs bench. Toskala dived back to get the puck but was too late.
“I was just thinking ahead,” Toskala said, showing no emotion. “Make a quick play. But the puck hit my thumb and went in. It was bad timing to give up that goal. Everybody is making mistakes and you just have to get ready for the next game.”
As if Toskala has to worry about getting ready for the next game, tonight against the Boston Bruins. Gustavsson was sharp and allowed just one goal on 17 shots. He said he felt good, and if healthy, should be the No. 1 guy.
After Lydman’s goal, Mike Grier and Matt Ellis scored. Goodbye, Toskala. Goodbye, any chance for a Leafs win.
At the opposite end was Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who has a possessive hold on the Leafs. By Wilson’s count, in his time behind the Leafs bench, Toronto has registered 75 more shots in games against Buffalo than the Sabres but have been outscored 33-12.
The Leafs were the better team in the first period, holding the Sabres to no shots for nearly 13 minutes. After Stalberg scored, Miller was scary good, stopping Lee Stempniak and Niklas Hagman on odd-man rushes.
From there, the Sabres found their legs, Toskala lost his wits, and the game was over.
“We’re not going to point fingers,” defenceman Mike Komisarek said. “Vesa has played well. It’s up to us on the bench to respond after a goal like that and regain momentum. That didn’t happen.”