Leafs shoot down Stars

Toronto Maple Leafs' Jonas Gustavsson is seen during pre-game against the Dallas Stars....

Toronto Maple Leafs' Jonas Gustavsson is seen during pre-game against the Dallas Stars. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:44 PM ET

TORONTO - Three straight home wins will not dissuade Brian Burke from making a move to help his top two lines before his personal Christmas holiday roster freeze of Dec. 9.

But a few Maple Leafs forwards can chill out after a vital bounce-back game Monday night against the Dallas Stars. Tyler Bozak’s agonizing wait for a goal came to an end and Nikolai Kulemin had a pair as the Leafs melted the Stars 4-1 at the Air Canada Centre. Kris Versteeg scored into the empty net at 19:49

General manager Burke told TSN before the game that his trade embargo, which precedes the official NHL cutoff by 10 days, will kick in after the home game against Philadelphia, eight games away. If the Leafs are to have any more prolonged scoring slumps and Burke still harbours playoff hopes, then a change would be in order.

But with the reliable goaltending that Jonas Gustavsson has provided the past three games, decent special teams and now two lines chipping in goals, the Leafs took pressure off of themselves following a shutout loss in Montreal. Toronto, now at the quarter mark of its schedule, gets three days to prepare for back-to-backs on the road against Buffalo and Ottawa.

Gustavsson’s 21-save night followed a 2-0 defeat where he deserved better and he had to make a big stop on Brenden Morrow off one of those eye-popping giveaways that have burned the Leafs of late, this one by Tomas Kaberle.

The Stars’ only goal came from centre Brad Richards, whose name is of interest to the Leafs and many teams with a hole in the middle, as Dallas wavers between playoff contention and a sale of the club that could see assets such as Richards become salary dumps.

Bozak tried his best to establish a net presence early on Monday, but just when it looked like he’d come up empty in points for the eighth straight game and be stuck on one goal his past 16, opportunity knocked late in the second period. With the Leafs just avoiding both an offside and a too many men call, Nazem Kadri caught the Stars flat-footed by passing across the slot to Bozak who snapped in his third of the year and first at home in almost a month.

That’s four helpers in five games for Kadri, who has been playing left wing on his recall and might have been considered for a shot at centre had Bozak’s struggles gone on much longer.

While Bozak also closed the second period strong, Kulemin was enjoying his second career two-goal game against the Stars, who hadn’t lost in three games at the ACC going back to the early part of the decade. After being frustrated by Habs ace Carey Price, the Leafs found Kari Lehtonen much more to the liking.

When Kulemin tipped the puck a second time after Mikhail Grabovski’s initial redirect, it was just the seventh time the Leafs had recorded a first-period goal the past 17 games. Only the brutal New York Islanders, who are losing games and banning critical media, have scored less than the Leafs.

Coach Ron Wilson took exception to the NHL’s statistical department and their data that his team has had more turnovers than the 29 other teams, but there were certainly some heart-stopping moments on Monday. However, Kaberle and Mike Komisarek’s tape to tape deliveries to Stars didn’t harm the Leafs, who blocked shots and killed two minors.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere could work through his groin injury and be ready by the weekend, but Gustavsson’s play means there’s no big rush. Gustavsson did get lucky with one post on Monday and a high rebound that he couldn’t track, but enough bad luck has dogged him in 51 NHL games.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/sunhornby


Videos

Photos