Antropov takes the cake

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:22 AM ET

RALEIGH -- Paul Maurice's 40th birthday turned into Christmas for Nik Antropov.

The Maple Leafs tied a bright Carolina-red bow around their fourth win in five games and second of the season in the shadow of the Hurricanes' 2006 Stanley Cup banner at RBC Center.

Antropov had two goals -- his seventh and eighth of the season -- and Andrew Raycroft made 28 saves, one a penalty shot, in the 4-1 match, earning the Leafs a chance at eighth spot tonight with a win in New York against the Rangers in the ever-changing Eastern Conference race.

Bates Battaglia and Tomas Kaberle, into an empty net, also scored for the Leafs. Ray Whitney had the lone Hurricanes goal.

"You can see the past few games that everyone is scoring, young guys trying to take us on their shoulders, old guys trying to step up," Antropov said of the Leafs' effort. "We're down to the last 31 games and we have to win almost all of them to get in the playoffs."

Maurice knows how potent his former 'Canes team can be and was ecstatic that his Leafs won 58% of the faceoffs last night.

"When you look back at it, we've had a pretty damn good January (7-4) with the injuries and some of the teams we've played," Maurice said. "There was a sense of accomplishment against Montreal (a win Saturday) and we built off it. I thought we played pretty well defensively, but you can say that when your goaltender makes the saves he did."

From the Eric Belanger penalty shot, to 17 saves in the second period, to some point-blank action early in the third, Raycroft was hot. But once again, it helped that the Leafs took just three penalties, blocked 14 shots and threw 51 hits, 16 more than the home team. Fifteen of those came from Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky, Mats Sundin's much-maligned first-line wingers.

"Pony hit like he hasn't all year and eventually the puck is going to go in for the three of them," Maurice said of sticking with the odd trio in the new NHL, particularly the slow Antropov. "There are some big players (who thrive in the new game). Rod Brind'Amour is not a fast guy, but is smart and has good hands and Nikky is the same.

"I've never had a problem with Nik's work ethic. He's not fleet of foot, but he can get to a puck seven feet on either side of him."

Antropov's 6-foot-6 reach helped him all night.

"I've said before, (the new style) has some disadvantages for me, but in the offensive zone, once we get in and get control, the defence can't touch us."

Defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo, called by the officials on Belanger's penalty shot, was fortunate to avoid injury when Craig Adams creamed him into the end boards on a first-period icing.

"It's nice to kick off (five on the road) with a big win," Colaiacovo said. "We have an even bigger game (in New York) and not very many points separating us and about seven teams.

Defenceman Ian White returned from a separated shoulder after three weeks, but winger Boyd Devereaux was not so lucky, scratched at game time with a sore leg. He hopes to play in Manhattan.

REPORT CARD

B+ Forwards: Scored early, scored late and played physically in between.

B - Defence: Prone to giving up odd-man rushes, put otherwise provided support.

B + Goaltending: Again, Andrew Raycroft benefitted from a smart road game.


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