Leafs crush Capitals

Maple Leafs Joffrey Lupul tries to score against Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth during...

Maple Leafs Joffrey Lupul tries to score against Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth during their game on November 19, 2011. (MARK O'NEILL/QMI Agency)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:08 AM ET

TORONTO - On a night that a crowd of 19,594 at the Air Canada Centre serenaded Maple Leafs great Johnny Bower with a rendition of Happy Birthday, the Leafs gave themselves one heck of a going-away present.

With a four-game, eight-day trip starting today against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Leafs hammered a listless Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the Washington Capitals 7-1 on Saturday night.

No less than seven Leafs — James Reimer, Mike Komisarek, Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur, Matthew Lombardi, Colby Armstrong and Mike Brown — were scratched because of injury, but Toronto got eight points from the Joffrey Lupul-Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel line to stop a four-game home-ice losing streak.

More importantly, there were goals provided by people who usually don’t score them, and goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, whose ability has been questioned inside and outside of the organization for days, was rock-solid.

Gustavsson tied a career high with 40 saves, something he accomplished two years ago to the day against Carolina.

“It was kind of crazy there for a while,” Gustavsson said, referring to a second-period flurry that included eye-popping saves on Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. “I felt like I had the bounces with me. It was a good team effort.”

Gustavsson, crucially, did not allow the Caps’ goal to kill his confidence. It came less than three minutes into the game, when Brooks Laich’s shot appeared to ricochet off both John-Michael Liles and Cody Franson before hitting the back of the net.

That goal erased a 1-0 Toronto lead, one that had been provided by Tim Connolly about a minute earlier.

Ben Scrivens is expected to start in Carolina, but with Reimer’s return from concussion-like symptoms unknown, Gustavsson has to at least provide stability in relief. With his performance, he couldn’t have made it more clear that his head was in the game.

When Gustavsson was not stopping the puck, the Leafs were taking care of another on-going worry.

Unlike other recent games, it was not just the Kessel line that did the majority of damage. In fact, for the first time since a win in Columbus on Nov. 3, a span of six games, the Leafs got goals from forwards who are not on that line.

Matt Frattin finally scored his first NHL goal after 16 games this season, on a beautiful feed from Joe Colborne in his Leafs regular-season debut no less, and Connolly and Bozak each had his second. David Steckel provided his fourth, coming shorthanded in the final minute to ensure the Leafs had their most goals in one game this season, and defenceman Cody Franson scored his first.

Kessel, with his league-leading 14th, and Lupul, with his 10th, were part of a four-goal binge in the second that helped chase Tomas Vokoun in favour of Michal Neuvirth.

“It was a long time coming,” said Frattin, who got the winner. “We did not have too much secondary scoring in the last (six) games and it hurt us. (Opponents) were getting leads and we could not come back. Every line was firing and it was good to see.”

Once the Leafs are done in Carolina, where they will face a bunch of old teammates and former Toronto coach Paul Maurice, they hit Tampa, Dallas and Anaheim.

Secondary scoring and solid backup goaltending will be paramount on the trip.

“Hopefully, we can keep this going,” coach Ron Wilson said. “Try to play like we have the past two games. Offensively, we have been dynamic. The defencemen have to move pucks and the forwards have to make good decisions. Just keep working hard.”


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