O'Neill's goal an encouraging sign

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:33 AM ET

Youngsters Ian White and Brendan Bell provided the packed house at the Air Canada with a glimpse of the future last night.

But it was veteran winger Jeff O'Neill's blast from the past that salvaged a single point for the Maple Leafs in a 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Rangers.

The embattled O'Neill, thankful to have the opportunity to strut his stuff with the outcome in the balance, ripped home the equalizer past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist with just three minutes remaining in regulation to knot the score at 4-4 and send the proceedings to overtime.

It was an encouraging sign for Leafs coach Paul Maurice, who has been waiting for O'Neill to recover from a pair of shoulder surgeries and regain the velocity on a shot that was once one of the most feared in the league during his days in Carolina.

While grateful to Maurice for the chance to be on the ice at such a key moment, it's obvious O'Neill still has a lukewarm relationship with his coach.

"I have better conversations with Paul's wife than actually Paul," O'Neill said. "We don't talk a lot. He's my coach and a lot of times you don't have to be buddy buddy with your coach. He tells you to go on the ice and if you screw up he's going to tell you in a way that's not so nice. That's the way it is in the big leagues and I'm fine with that.

"As for the goal, it's something I prided myself in my whole career. I like to be on the ice when the game is on the line. To have that opportunity is a lot of fun."

White assisted on the goal, capping off an eventful night in which he was named the game's second star after racking up a pair of assists in 25 minutes 11 seconds of ice time.

Maurice showed a lot of confidence in his rookie defencemen, pairing Bell and White together for much of the third period and overtime.

"Not taking anything away from Hal (Gill, his regular defence partner), but we're probably more offensive minded," White said. "We were down a goal so they probably were going to send out as much offence as possible to get that goal."

Earlier in the game, White left the building buzzing with a highlight-reel, long-bomb pass that sent Alexei Ponikarovsky into the clear with the team's second goal.

"We saw it in our (advanced) scouting that they like to stand up at the line," he said. "I just tried to chip it up there."


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