Leafs snap out of funk

Alexei Ponikarovsky (right) celebrates his third period goal to beat the New York Islanders 4-2....

Alexei Ponikarovsky (right) celebrates his third period goal to beat the New York Islanders 4-2. (Toronto Sun/Craig Robertson)

TERRY KOSHAN, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

Paul Maurice demands excellence out of his Maple Leafs, but for one night, average was enough.

To no one's surprise, the Leafs coach was not thrilled.

In escaping from a two-game losing skid, the Leafs last night gorged themselves on three early goals and lived off the fat, managing to beat the New York Islanders 4-2 at the Air Canada Centre.

Toronto failed to put its collective foot on the throat of the Islanders, who were finishing a strech of five consecutive road games with their third game in four nights. The Leafs did not put their 12th win into the books until Alexei Ponikarovsky scored a power-play goal with 69 seconds remaining.

"Winning is important, but we weren't handing out roses after that game," said Maurice, who lit into the players before the dressing room was open to the media. "We played very well in the first period and I was very disappointed that we did not finish the deal hard.

"I thought we were better than they were. We just could have been and should have been better than that."

Maurice was happy that Andrew Raycroft was sharp after missing three games with a mild groin strain, and that there was scoring from some unusual sources. Yet despite outshooting the Isles 33-21, the victory won't be filed into the "Hard Work" binder in Maurice's office.

There have been times in the past when the Leafs' lack of a killer instinct hurt them. Had they been facing a tougher opponent last night, it's likely they would have lost. But they scored three goals in the opening 10 minutes before the disorganized Islanders knew what had hit them and it carried the Leafs. Afterward, Raycroft had to make some strong saves to keep his team going.

Neither John Pohl nor Kyle Wellwood had scored in a month, going back to a win Oct. 20 in Columbus. But they sandwiched a goal by the Islanders' Chris Simon in the first six minutes, and at 9:23, power-play machine Darcy Tucker got his 10th with a man advantage and 13th overall.

Jason Blake also scored for the Islanders, who got 29 saves from Rick DiPietro.

"I did realize (how long it had been since he scored)," said Wellwood, who also recorded his 16th assist and is in a five-way tie for the team scoring lead. "It has been a problem this year and hopefully, eventually, I'll be able to score more.

"Taking advantage of them early in the game was the story because otherwise we did not play that well."

Pohl was set up with a great pass from Wade Belak, of all people. It was Belak's first point in 21 games after he had three assists in 55 outings last year.

Maurice made a couple of lineup changes, putting Alex Steen on a line with Bates Battaglia and Michael Peca. Tucker was moved from that line and put with Matt Stajan and Jeff O'Neill. With Mats Sundin continuing to recover from an elbow injury, Maurice has to keep it fresh.

Most importantly, Raycroft had no rust.

"That made life a lot easier for me," Raycroft said of the initial burst of goals. "The groin was good."


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