Grabovski steals the show

Maple Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski scores the winning spin-o-rama goal in the shootout against...

Maple Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski scores the winning spin-o-rama goal in the shootout against the Capitals in Washington on December 6, 2010. (KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:35 PM ET

WASHINGTON — The conversation took place on the Maple Leafs bench and naturally was all in Russian. But when Mikhail Grabovski got the thumbs up from linemate Nikolai Kulemin to make the daring move he has worked on before, the stage was set for an unlikely shootout winner to finish off an even more remarkable comeback. A stop and spin and then a backhand shot that easily beat Washington goaltender Michal Neuvirth made Grabovski the highlight hero in a dramatic 5-4 shootout Toronto victory that was more grit than good looks. The show-stopping winner was a thing of beauty, however, a goal that the Leafs will remember for quite a while. “Unbelievable,” said Leafs forward Tim Brent, who chipped in his third of the season as part of a three-goal third-period rally to force the extra time. “You have to be a pretty gutsy guy to pull that stuff, but I love that he did it.” At the other end of the ice there was another gutsy move by Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who stabbed his stick out at the last second to make a paddle save on Washington’s Mathieu Perreault to preserve the win. Suddenly, a team that entered the night tied as the NHL’s worst road team beat a Capitals crew that rules the roost in home victories. Grabovski’s move certainly stole the show from fellow Russian-speaking stars on the Caps as both Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin were stopped by Gustavsson in the shootout. “Usually you have your move and I have that one,” said Grabovski, who got his sixth of the season to start the rally. “It’s a Jason Blake (former Leaf) move. “I didn’t feel (nervous). We just needed the two points.” That they did. After losing eight in a row on the road and beginning a brutal week that also includes games at Pittsburgh (Wednesday) and home to Philadelphia (Thursday) and Montreal (Saturday), the Leafs looked doomed early. Trailing 4-1 following two periods against the top team in the Eastern Conference, it would have been easy for the Leafs to pack it in. But when Grabovski started the comeback, the Capitals had no answer. “A 4-to-1 lead after two periods is pretty big,” said Ovechkin, who had one goal but was largely kept in check. Losing a game like this is pretty bad for us.” As sloppy as the Leafs were early on, the Capitals were even moreso in the third period. Toronto knows all too well what careless play in their own end can lead to, but this time it was their hosts that were the guilty ones. Grabovski buried his regulation goal on a nice feed from Tomas Kaberle, who also earned an assist on Brent’s goal, in which he got the puck to the front of the net for the Leafs forward’s tip in. If you are sensing a trend here, Clarke MacArthur’s first of two on the night was also from close in as the Leafs slowly but surely seem to be getting the message that if they are going to win games, that will be the blueprint. “Washington got a little sloppy towards the end, I think they thought the game was over,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “But we kept on playing and took advantage of some of the miscues in their end.” The win spoiled a big night for Perreault, who scored twice on the same day he was called up from Hershey of the AHL. Instead, the Leafs, a team that has historically struggled in the shootout has back-to-back wins in the format that drives coaches crazy. And perhaps a little confidence as they try to fight towards playoff contention. “We’re battling right to the end for sure,” said Leafs forward Colby Armstrong, who has seen his team go 2-0 since his return from a finger injury that kept him out for 16 games. “We did a lot of good things and got pucks to the net.” Some got there the hard way. And then there was a bit of Russian mastery that needs no translation.

Videos

Photos