Leafs take down Islanders in OT

Maple Leafs forward Tim Connolly shoots wide against Islanders goaltender Al Montoya at Nassau...

Maple Leafs forward Tim Connolly shoots wide against Islanders goaltender Al Montoya at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., Jan. 24, 2012. (JIM McISAAC/Getty Images/AFP)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:31 AM ET

UNIONDALE, N.Y. - The Maple Leafs began the evening like they had one skate in the sand, anticipating their all-star break getaway to warmer climes.

They ended it with both feet closer to the playoff perimeter, tied with two other eighth-place contenders at 55 points, gaining what winger Joey Crabb called “peace of mind” in the standings during the coming six days off.

Using everything in the recipe that has yielded January success, goaltending, discipline and some secondary scoring, the Leafs hit the break with home-and-home wins against the New York Islanders. They topped a 3-0 home shutout win Monday evening with an improbable result on Tuesday night.

Down 2-0, the Leafs rallied to tie it up early in the third, went up by one late in the period and then were forced to snatch a 4-3 overtime victory after giving up an unlucky last-minute goal in the final frame.

“This speaks well of our team,” said captain Dion Phaneuf. “It was a playoff-type game (suddenly it doesn’t seem so strange for a Leaf to say that) and it was a good character game going into the break.”

While Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and Phaneuf head to the mid-season showcase in Ottawa (the three Leafs who could most use the rest), their teammates will disperse until the next leg of this nip-and-tuck playoff race, back-to-back against Pittsburgh next week.

Jonas Gustavsson made 29 saves in his second straight victory for the Leafs.

Toronto’s first sweep of the same opponent in 48 hours since 2009, came the hard way. The night required a physical response as well as on the scoreboard. Lupul fought off two Islanders to come to the aid of Kessel in a scrum.

“After they hit some of our skill guys, we kind of got a burr under our rear ends,” said coach Ron Wilson. “We thought there were a few cheap shots going on and we had to respond.”

Yet the Leafs stayed away from having to kill a penalty for a second straight game.

Toronto was 12.2 seconds away from a regulation win on a weird Mikhail Grabovski goal when the centre struck a teammate trying to rim the puck out of his own zone with the New York net empty. It went right to an open P.A. Parenteau.

Clarke MacArthur, who broke out of a funk with two goals and an assist, netted the overtime winner and Gustavsson survived a three-on-two in the extra frame.

In a hole after a brutal start, Wilson had torn up all but the first line midway through the game, looking for anything to finish the schedule on a strong note. The reunited Mac n’ the USSR line finally rewarded Wilson’s faith, with Nikolai Kulemin getting a nice deflection attempt and Grabovski gathering the puck and going cross-crease to MacArthur.

A relieved MacArthur, scoreless in his previous eight games, found the corner on Al Montoya and kept his arms raised an extra few seconds, doing a fly-by of the rinkside seats. Grabovski added the go-ahead goal at 16:29, banking a shot off Milan Jurcina over Montoya.

“He hadn’t been quite moving his feet or finishing his checks,” Wilson said of replacing MacArthur with Crabb until Tuesday. “We need offence from lots of different sources and we’re starting to get it.”

Gustavsson matched his career high with his 16th win.

“This isn’t a controversy, he’s playing the way we expected him to play a couple of years ago,” Wilson said.

The Leafs knew they would not have the luxury of last line change to try and blank John Tavares and Matt Moulson a second night. But it was simply lack of resolve to match New York’s early push that saw Taveras quickly get back on the points’ wagon. With Monday’s coverage line of Kulemin, Grabovski and Crabb unable to clear and defencemen Carl Gunnarsson and Phaneuf failing to win one-on-one battles as well, the worn-down Leafs gave up Tavares’ 20th at 1:54.

A goalie interference penalty to the Isles produced a giveaway and an icing and the Leafs escaped a number of close calls to remain down a goal after one. Their power play problems escalated in the second period when Gunnarsson’s hard and wide drive popped back out and caught him on a 2-on-1. Josh Bailey out-paced the pursuing Grabovski and finished off the Matt Martin rush for his second short-handed goal in a week.

But Toronto followed the MacArthur goal with some big hits at the end of the period, including Lupul taking a liberty on Tavares. That energy flowed into the third period where Jake Gardiner scored his first NHL goal in his 42nd game. He had help with MacArthur in Montoya’s face and Nazem Kadri screening in the slot. Gardiner said he’d give the puck to his Dad, who had trailed after the team for days without his son getting the milestone goal.


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