Leafs get shootout win

Toronto Maple Leafs' Kris Versteeg celebrates his goal against the St. Louis Blues. (Craig...

Toronto Maple Leafs' Kris Versteeg celebrates his goal against the St. Louis Blues. (Craig Robertson/QMI AGENCY)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:11 PM ET

What is it about teams with the Maple Leaf on their sweaters unable to hold three-goal leads late in a game?

On Wednesday, the Team Canada juniors melted against the Russians, and Thursday, in a game with far less national significance, the Toronto version gave up three in the third, then survived a 6-5 shootout over the St. Louis Blues.

Mikahil Grabovski, Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak scored to overcome goals by ex-Leafs Alex Steen and Brad Boyes.

In the 3,000th regular-season home game, the Leafs were strutting around after taking a 5-2 advantage early in the third on Phil Kesselís second of the game.

But the undermanned Blues pushed back and the Leafs fell off like dried needles on a Christmas tree.

Matt DíAgostimiís breakaway goal on a fortunate rebound of a Luke Schenn point shot at the other end tied it with 6:39 to play.

Jonas Gustavsson lost sight on a soft rebound in the final ticks of regulation or it might have ended there.

Steen, one of three ex-Leafs in the game, had a huge night, starting with his 14th goal.

The win didnít dent the conference standings much, with the Leafs still more than 10 points out of eighth with four teams ahead of them.

But they are in position to sweep back-to-back games for just the ninth time in 78 tries since the lockout when they play in Atlanta tonight.

Gustavsson was given the start ahead of the hot James Reimer and seemed in control even after Brad Winchester made it 5-3 early in the third.

It was the second time video review was invoked with Winchester in the vicinity, a likely second-period goal called off by an inconclusive replay.

St. Louis followed that up with Eric Brewerís goal from the point, one of those aggravating goals that Gustavsson had trouble seeing because his team couldnít clear a sight line.

He wound up making 39 regulation/overtime saves.

With 19,283 on hand and no doubt suffering a hockey hangover from the juniorsí gold-medal loss, the Leafs scored in the first minute of play and then three times in the second period.

Toronto tied its home-ice high in goals this year, its first line living up to its billing in the second period, with the team down 2-1 and little life in the rink.

Successive hits on a cycle by Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur sprang Grabovski in the slot.

Bluesí starter Jaroslav Halak had come in with a record of 6-2-2 against the Leafs with a .919 save percentage, forged during his Montreal days, but gave up a goal 15 seconds in and was pulled before the middle period ended.

Versteeg punched in first since Dec. 14 with a nice back-door set-up from Colby Armstrong.

A horrible giveaway by Vladimir Sobotka with Kessel cruising in the slot ended Halakís night and allowed Kessel to keep pace with Grabovskiís 15th for the team lead.

An aggressive rush by the Leafs and some muscle from the Blues resulted in early goals for both teams.

Coach Ron Wilson backed off from starting his top scoring line, and Versteeg swept around the net for a shot that caught Armstrongís fluttering shirt tail and fooled Halak.

That took just 15 seconds after the Leafs had been blanked 4-0 in St. Louis in last seasonís only meeting.

But that lead lasted only until big David Backes got the better of two run-ins with Francois Beauchemin, getting the puck to ex-Leaf Alex Steen.

Not long after, Mike Komisarek and Kulemin were crossed up on a breakout that Backes converted for his 11th goal.

Right after the game, the Leafs were to fly to Atlanta to start a four-game road trip.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere was on board, meaning he received medical clearance to ramp up his workouts and perhaps start a game on the California portion of the trip.

The Leafs are now listed as the fourth youngest team in the league, with St. Louis ranked fifth, while carrying three former high draft picks from Toronto ó Brad Boyes, Steen and Carl Colaiacovo.

Wilson also pulled Carl Gunnarsson from the lineup after seven games, seeking to get more scoring on the blueline with smaller and more creative Brett Lebda.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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