January 31, 2012
Leafs blow three-goal lead to fall in shootout
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
PITTSBURGH - Mikhail Grabovski blew out the candles on his 28th birthday, put the Maple Leafs in a playoff spot and perhaps extinguished some trade rumours.
But his two-goal, three-point night couldn’t stir up a win. A weird Evgeni Malkin deflection with 6.6 seconds to go in regulation — call that a Mario Lemieux moment — capped a three-goal Pens comeback.
After Phil Kessel lost a puck coming out of Toronto’s end — instead of chipping it into the Pittsburgh zone with the net empty — James Neal ripped a shot high and wide off the shoulder of Malkin, the NHL scoring leader. Malkin, held off the board to that stage, later clinched the 5-4 shootout victory on Jonas Gustvasson with the only goal of the tiebreaker.
“A bad (birthday) present,” was how Grabovski described the third-period letdown.
Still, the point in the standings put Toronto into eighth place to enter the new month, breaking a tie with idle Florida.
“We’re happy to be back in the top eight, but we have to learn from our mistakes and look forward,” captain Dion Phaneuf said of Wednesday’s rematch in Toronto. “We took the game to them the first 55 minutes and then sat back. They just kept coming and broke us.”
It was their first loss in 19 games when leading in the third period (18-0-1) and the other highlight dimmed by the loss was the Leafs becoming the first team since the
1973-74 Chicago Blackhawks to go a calendar month without allowing a power play goal. Adhering to coach Ron Wilson’s edict to avoid obstructing Malkin and his ilk, they were shorthanded just once after two penalty-free games, with a Lombardi minor their only trespass on Tuesday. It kept their streak at 17-for-17 in January. The unit started 2012 buried in last place in that department.
“We’ve had a few rough patches, but we’re working hard at it,” Phaneuf said.
Wilson was upset the Leafs weren’t smarter with the puck in the dying seconds, but also pointed to Tyler Bozak’s opening goal being disallowed as a big setback, in hindsight. With Joffrey Lupul nowhere near Marc-Andre Fleury, he was called for incidental contact.
“Bad call,” Lupul said. “I never touched the goalie. But referees make mistakes, too.”
Seconds after the sold-out crowd at Consol Energy Center had a good laugh over a costumed Hulk Hogan holding up an “Over-rated” sign with Phaneuf’s name, the Leaf captain maintained control on a rush around the net to set up Grabovski at the side of the net to open the scoring.
Unlucky Luke Schenn had a couple of missed tips to add to the Leafs lead, but scarcely had one of his gone wide of the empty side when Grabovski came back down the same wing and went high blocker side on Fleury. A standout in Pittsburgh’s seven-game winning streak, Fleury made 35 saves and three in the shootout on Kessel, Grabovski and Nazem Kadri.
Gustavsson, trying for three straight wins and a career high 17 in playing 11 of the past 12 games, was beaten by a Matt Cooke deflection with the Leafs up two. Joe Vitale moved the Pens within one with five minutes to play.
Grabovski, whose reconstructed line with Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur has now produced 16 points the past two games, came close a couple of times before beating Fleury. As a pending nrestricted free agent, his name has popped up in trade speculation, but even Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma was calling him as dangerous as Kessel and Lupul before the game. Grabovski gave up a hat trick chance to Kulemin, who whiffed.
Bozak and MacArthur supplied early third-period goals, MacArthur on the struggling Leaf power play.