Leafs' hero dressed in White as Penguins upset

Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby (87) skates past a group of Toronto Maple Leafs as they...

Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby (87) skates past a group of Toronto Maple Leafs as they congratulate teammate Ian White on his game-winning goal in the third period of their NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh on Dec. 27. (REUTERS/Jason Cohn)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:22 PM ET

PITTSBURGH - Nine years to the day that Mario Lemieux made his miraculous NHL comeback against the Maple Leafs, it was Ian White’s turn to produce some magic.

As the Maple Leafs faced off against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena Sunday night, the hosts made certain that their visitors from Toronto were aware of the history between these two teams in games played on Dec. 27.

Early in the first period, the Pens ran a video tribute on the centre ice scoreboard to the Leafs-Pittsburgh matchup of Dec. 27, 2000, the day that Super Mario ended his three-year retirement by scoring a goal and two assists in a 5-0 thumping of Toronto.

But there would be no such storybook finish for the Pens on this night, thanks to White.

Just 53 seconds after Pittsburgh’s Mike Rupp had tied the score at 3-3, White responded with the game-winner with 1:22 remaining in regulation to give the Leafs a well-earned 4-3 victory over the high-octane Pens.

“I didn’t see much net there,” White explained afterward. “But most butterfly goalies leave the corners open. I just happened to find one.”

Earlier in the season, the Leafs would have wilted had they belched up a late lead like that. Not this time.

“We had a quiet confidence,” White said. “We could easily have become deflated. But we didn’t.

“We had a lot of resiliency out there. We kept battling back.”

Coach Ron Wilson was pleased with the way his team pushed the envelope after Rupp’s goal.

“We didn’t sit back and wait for overtime,” Wilson said. “We wanted to get the puck in deep.”

Wilson shuffled his lines around, attempting to get a more defensive presence on his top unit. That successful philosophy helped limit the Penguins to 24 shots in the game, including just four in the first period.

When the Pens did get pucks through to the net, goalie Vesa Toskala was solid between the pipes, a claim that can’t be made every time he makes a start.

Remember the previous time Toskala got the call? That came during a 5-2 loss in Buffalo on Nov. 18, one in which he whiffed on Toni Lydman’s neutral zone floater. He would be yanked from the game soon afterward.

Sunday night was a far better performance.

“I don’t know what to expect (when Toskala plays),” Wilson said. “He was solid when we needed him.”

“It was a tough game, because there weren’t a lot of shots,” Toskala admitted. “The guys did a good job in front of me.”

Toskala ran his career record to 7-2 against the Pens, including three victories last season.

“Really? I didn’t know that,” he said.

Luke Schenn, with his first of the season, Lee Stempniak and Jason Blake scored the other Leaf goals. Stempniak had three points on the night, while Alexei Ponikarovsky chipped in with two assists.

Rupp, Sidney Crosby and Matt Cooke replied for the Pens, who suffered just their third regulation-time loss in a month.

The victory allowed the Leafs to come out of the two-day Christmas break with three out of a possible four points heading into their upcoming road swing through Edmonton and Calgary. On Saturday, they dropped a hard-fought 3-2 overtime decision to the Montreal Canadiens.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


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