Tossing the Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals in the same rink twice in 72 hours is like throwing a match into a box of dynamite.
The clubs produced 19 goals, with seven power-play markers on 33 chances. And after fumbling a few sticks of TNT in their zone last night, Toronto figured out how blasting caps work in a 6-4 win at the Air Canada Centre to split the series. Toronto overcame another two-goal night from wunderkind Alexander Ovechkin and a 2-0 deficit with five consecutive goals, three in a span of 1:51 in the third period.
"It's a different game out there," said Leafs captain and game-winning goal-scorer Mats Sundin, still getting used to the "new" National Hockey League after his third game. "(It) was a big comeback win, but if we still want to compete with Ottawa and the top teams in our conference, we have to be better in our end."
That's exactly what head coach Pat Quinn has been trying to drill through their helmets in a stretch that has seen the Leafs lurch between loss-win-loss-win-loss-win since a blowout 8-0 defeat by the Senators on Oct. 29. Though the Leafs had a couple of highlight goals and good defensive plays last night, they struggled all evening to make the first pass out of their end and were defending an inordinate amount of two-on-ones and three-on-twos, despite getting the majority of power plays.
"Those are the fights we are having with ourselves right now about confidence and resilience," Quinn said. "For us to be a better team, they're going to have to happen. I see Kyle (Wellwood) and I see others getting into better defensive position and as a result, I think we'll be a better team."
After four games in six nights, the Leafs get a breather until back-to-back games in Buffalo and Montreal on Friday and Saturday.
The Toronto goals came from an odd assortment that included Alexei Ponikarovsky, Carlo Colaiacovo (his first in the NHL after a torturous start to his career) and Chad Kilger, stealing the thunder from Quinn's highly publicized line changes after Sunday's 5-4 loss in D.C.
Jeff O'Neill, reborn with Sundin as his centre, had his sixth power-play goal and his give and go on a Sundin wraparound cemented a new partnership with Alex Steen on left wing.
Jason Allison was shifted to the wing with Kyle Wellwood and Ponikarovsky and had one assist in 11:31 of ice time. Sundin's goal, tying him with Ron Ellis at 332 for third on the Leafs' career list, chased Olaf Kolzig, with Colaiacovo beating back-up goaltender Brent Johnson.
Ovechkin terrorized the Leafs again, with seven shots and two rockets past Ed Belfour. The Russian now has 12 of the club's 38 goals.
Ben Clymer and Matt Pettinger had the other Washington goals. Bryan McCabe also scored for Toronto.