MONTREAL -- Tomas Kaberle has been the whipping boy of a bitter Leafs Nation in this young season, and it hasn't been pretty.
After back-to-back humiliating losses to the rival Ottawa Senators last week, the Toronto Sun was flooded with e-mails ripping the veteran defenceman and his four-year, $21.25 million US salary.
The most stinging shots came from frustrated fans who claimed the Maple Leafs' No. 15 should, from here on in be referred to as "Mrs. Kaberle" for his soft play.
Maybe Kaberle heard the criticism. Maybe the personable Czech blue-liner figured a Saturday night tilt against the Montreal Canadiens in front of an electric capacity crowd at the Bell Centre and a national TV audience was the perfect forum to shut up his critics.
In what proved to be a career night for the smooth-skating defenceman, Kaberle registered his first career hat trick and added an assist, then scored in the shootout.
After Sergei Samsonov equalized in the shootout, Kyle Wellwood scored the winner to give Toronto a much-needed 5-4 victory.
Up 4-2 in the third period, goals by Samsonov and Sheldon Souray past a wobbly J-S Aubin forced the game into one of those shootouts the Leafs so despise.
But Aubin came up big when it mattered, running the Leafs' record in shootouts to 2-3 this season and 5-10 overall.
The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for the Leafs.
About the only person who hadn't been fretting over Kaberle's slow start was general manager John Ferguson, who gave Kaberle and fellow defenceman Bryan McCabe a solid vote of confidence on Friday.
"They set the tempo for us," Ferguson said. "They have to be our best players."
Last night, Kaberle easily was the best player on the ice. In fact, he racked up more points in the first period (three) than he had recorded in the team's first 11 games.
"The bounces will start coming my way, I'm sure of it," Kaberle said Friday. "I'm not worried."
Sure enough, after talking the talk, it didn't take Kaberle long to walk the walk.
Just 1:44 after the opening faceoff, Kaberle's point shot glanced off a skate and came directly to Alexei Ponikarovsky, who drained the puck behind Habs goalie David Aebischer for a 1-0 lead. McCabe also drew an assist on the play.
It was a much-needed goal with the man advantage for the Leafs, whose power play had plummeted to 22nd overall entering play yesterday.
About three minutes later, Kaberle was at it again, ripping a wrist shot past Aebischer's trapper into the top corner. The goal, at 4:50 of the first, put the visitors up 2-0, much to the glee of the several thousand blue-and-white clad Leafs fans sitting in the upper deck.
Samsonov, who last week complained about being demoted to the fourth line, brought the Habs to within one at 7:39 of the first. Coach Guy Carbonneau must have had a change of heart because Samsonov found himself up on the second unit for much of the game.
Kaberle restored the two-goal lead with just 43 seconds left in the opening period on a backhand that slipped through Aebischer on the short side. It was a goal the Habs goalie should have had.
After Alexander Perezhogin brought the Habs to within one midway through the second, Kaberle gave the Leafs a 4-2 lead when the puck trickled under Aebischer's blocker and across the goal line.
But the third-period goals by Samsonov and Souray set up Wellwood's shootout heroics.
(C - )Goaltending:After a solid first two periods, J-S Aubin looked shaky on third-period goals by Sergei Samsonov and Sheldon Souray.
(B-)Defence: Tomas Kaberle's four-point career night was offset by the struggles of rookie Ian White and Hal Gill.
(B)Forwards: After looking as if they were skating in cement during back-to-back outings against Ottawa, this group really carried the play to the Habs through the first two periods.