Maple Leafs forward Matt Stajan celebrated his 22nd birthday last night with a present to himself that he hopes keeps giving and giving.
Stajan broke out of a significant slump with his first two-goal game in the NHL and also had an assist to earn second-star honours in the Leafs' 9-6 win against the New York Islanders.
"I have not been doing much the past couple of months," Stajan said. "I have been in a slow stretch with contributing offensively. I got more ice time and I played with some skilled guys and got the job done. Hopefully this gets me going."
In a road game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Nov. 3, Stajan had one goal and two assists. But in the 19 games between then and last night, he produced just one goal and one assist. Two years ago, as an NHL rookie, Stajan had 14 goals and 13 assists in 69 games. Now, he is up to six goals and seven assists in 33 games.
With time winding down in the third period, Stajan had a beautiful chance to record his first hat trick since he played junior for the Belleville Bulls.
He broke in on Isles goalie Garth Snow on a two-on-one with Bryan McCabe, and chose to shoot. But Snow couldn't have made an easier save, as Stajan put the puck right at him.
"After I shot it I kind of regretted it," Stajan said. "Caber was pretty much open back door. He told me after I had to shoot it. But we got the win and it was a lot of fun."
Stajan scored his first goal, at 9:22 of the second period, on a two-on-one pass from Mats Sundin while the Leafs were short-handed. That was the Leafs' sixth goal and chased starting goalie Rick DiPietro. Just 2 1/2 minutes later, Stajan greeted Snow with a goal after a fine passing play that included linemates Kyle Wellwood and Jeff O'Neill. That was the game-winner.
Wellwood, who was named first star, had a goal and three assists.
"It felt like junior and the AHL out there," Wellwood said, remembering the days that four-point games were commonplace for him. "There was a lot of open ice."
While Stajan and Wellwood beamed, O'Neill did not. He left with five minutes remaining after a collision with Janne Niinimaa, suffering a charley horse on his right leg.
"Luckily he did not get me knee-on-knee or I would not be too happy right now," O'Neill said. "It should not be a major issue but we will have to see how it is (today)."