Leafs stay alive after shootout win

Toronto Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak congratulate teammate Joffrey Lupul on a goal...

Toronto Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak congratulate teammate Joffrey Lupul on a goal against the Boston Bruins. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:13 AM ET

TORONTO - BOSTON -- Whether it's this April -- or more likely next October -- the Maple Leafs have served notice they'll shake up the old order in the Northeast Division.

A sixth straight year out of the playoffs, still not official after the no-quit Leafs came back in a 4-3 shootout on Thursday to Boston, has been punctuated by much better play against the rival clubs that made life hell for Toronto the past few seasons. That includes the Bruins and the Buffalo Sabres, with their Vezina Trophy calibre goalies Tim Thomas and Ryan Miller, who have now each fallen three times to James Reimer and the late-blooming Leafs.

The Leafs are 12-8-2 in the Northeast lodge with a chance to be far above .500 in concluding games Saturday in Ottawa and a week later at home against Montreal.

"We've been on quite a roll against everybody," coach Ron Wilson agreed. "The only team that has beaten us the past two months was Ottawa in a 1-0 shootout. We're just going to have to keep piling on the efforts right through the end and you never know what's going to happen.

"They're a young team and they seem to care for each other. It's little things like winning a battle, taking a hit. It shows we've come together as a team."

Boston was trying to clinch the division crown and improve the draft situation as the teams hold each other's first-rounders in June. The win, coming against a team that was 28-1-1 when leading after two periods, keeps the Leafs five points out of eighth spot with four to play and ninth-place Carolina still to pass.

Toronto received a big hand on the out-of-town board when the New York Islanders beat up the Rangers, who had fallen into eighth the night before, but it still requires a 4-0 finish and complete breakdown by the Rangers and Hurricanes.

Rookie Nazem Kadri had the only shootout goal, after Reimer weathered a total of 38 Boston shots and five power plays. Mikhail Grabovski had the game on his stick twice in overtime, a breakaway that Thomas stopped and an iffy penalty shot awarded when Steven Kampfer hacked him at the last second on his rush. Boston coach Claude Julien tried to help slumping scorers Michael Ryder, Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin by giving them the shootout chances, while Phil Kessel was stopped for the Leafs.

"Nazem's the best breakaway guy we have on our team with that big-time move," Wilson said, as Kadri followed up his two-point game against the Sabres.

Joffrey Lupul, who took longer than expected to adapt to new surroundings after a trade with Anaheim, recorded his first three-point game as a Leaf, underlining it by pouncing on a puck to tie the game early in the third. He has six points the past five games.

"I picked off a pass coming up the middle and just wanted to get it on net glove side," Lupul said. "Thomas has had my number."

Prior to assisting on Luke Schenn's game opening goal, ex-Leaf Tomas Kaberle hit Lupul in the visor with a puck, which he maintained control of for a pass. He also cashed a Kessel power-play relay with his skate.

"The more I play, the better I feel. This is the time of year you want to play well. We played hard, went to the net and got rewarded. We're a team that's going to learn something every night, I hope."

Thomas came into the game with a goals-against average of nearly 2.60 against the Leafs and 1.96 against the rest of the NHL. Schenn's goal ended his most recent shutout streak at 122 minutes, 21 seconds.

Reimer, appearing in his 33rd game to pass Jean-Sebastien Giguere for the most of the Leafs' three goalies this year, had one bad goal when light-shooting Andrew Ference beat him 5-hole from the boards. But he stood tall in the closing minutes along with Tim Brent, who factored in killing the 4-on-3 Boston enjoyed the final 1:05 of overtime. Brent won the draw out of the zone, but snapped his stick and in a lightning exchange of hardware, came back in the play to block a shot.

"(Equipment man) Brian Papineau was quick on the draw on the bench," Brent joked. "Thank God the puck went out on that faceoff. But from then on, as a unit we made our mind up to do anything and everything to get it to a shootout."

While the other Leafs man advantages looked too stiff, the penalty killing had a 4-for-4 night in regulation play. Jay Rosehill came out of the box to take on a tough customer in Milan Lucic in one of the more entertaining bouts of the season.

While Toronto kept its lineup intact from Tuesday's win over Buffalo. Boston made two changes, replacing the injured Shawn Thornton with the struggling Ryder, while regular Johnny Boychuk was given a rest in favour of Kampfer.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca Twitter.com/sunhornby


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