February 1, 2011
Leafs hang on for shootout win
By TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
TORONTO - One down, 32 to go.
The Maple Leafs returned to the ice on Tuesday night after the all-star break with as big a bang as they could muster, scoring the first goal for the first time in 11 games.
What mattered most, however, was that they got the last goal as well, beating the Florida Panthers 4-3 in a shootout at the Air Canada Centre.
Colby Armstrong used a nifty backhand deke to beat former Leafs netminder Scott Clemmensen, ensuring that the Leafs snapped a three-game losing streak.
The Panthers had a final chance to keep themselves alive, but Jean-Sebastien Giguere stopped Chris Higgins.
Giguere was the story for the Leafs, who were outshot 22-10 in the final 40 minutes of regulation. There was a bit of a surprise, considering the strong play of rookie goalie James Reimer, when coach Ron Wilson confirmed earlier that Giguere would start.
The latter could get back into frame on Thursday night when the Carolina Hurricanes visit the ACC.
"I'm not really sure," Wilson said when he was asked whether he would ride Giguere well into February. "James Reimer has played so well, every game. He has not had a bad game yet. I'm still thinking of getting games in there for Reims, too, and go from there."
No mention of Jonas Gustavsson, who could be bound for a conditioning stint with the Marlies.
The Leafs have 32 games left, and they are going to have to win as many as humanly possible to have any shot at making the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Toronto is 12 points behind the Atlanta Thrashers, who are clinging to eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 57 points.
Giguere, who spent the all-star weekend relaxing in California with his family, made a stone-cold pad save on Marty Reasoner with less than nine minutes remaining in regulation.
But the Panthers sent the game into the extra period when Cory Stillman got his stick on a Dmitry Kulikov shot during a power play at 16:19 of the third.
The goal was significant for a couple of reasons. It was the Panthers' second power-play goal of the game, an incredible feat when one remembers that Florida had scored six goals on 77 man-advantage chances during road games this season.
And the man in the box for the Leafs was none other than Phil Kessel, who couldn't have been more snakebitten as he tried to forget he was the last man standing in the all-star draft on the weekend.
Kessel made a beautiful end-to-end rush in overtime, dancing past a couple of Panthers, but Clemmensen stuck out his right pad to thwart Kessel's backhand deke.
Kessel had a great opportunity to break his spell early in the third period, keeping the puck on a 2-on-1, but his shot bounced harmlessly off the skate of a Panthers defenceman.
Later, Kessel slammed the bench door in frustration after Clemmensen came out to poke check him.
The Leafs' $6-million man has not scored a goal in eight games, his longest dry spell of the 2010-11 season. Kessel, who earlier had a pair of seven-game skids, also fell to minus-20.
Kris Versteeg, Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski scored for the Leafs, who had a 2-1 lead after one period and a 3-2 lead after two.
Stephen Weiss and David Booth also scored for the Panthers.
The Leafs lost Mike Brown in the second period, as the fourth-liner departed from the game with an upper-body injury. Brown was crunched along the boards on a clean hit by Panthers defenceman Keaton Ellerby.
Wilson said that Brown is day to day.
But approving fingers were all being pointed at Giguere. His steady performance got the Leafs two points.
"He made some big saves for us," Armstrong said. "They had a lot of odd-man rushes and he came up big for us. First game after the break, I thought everyone was a little rusty.
"I'm just glad we got the extra point."