In the kind of game that could ultimately save a playoff spot after so many wasted points, they shocked Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils with a 4-3 shootout win, entering the third period down two goals and with top defenceman Tomas Kaberle in the hospital.
In a win-one-for-the-Gipper script, the defence picked up the torch for Kaberle and figured in on three goals, keeping the game alive for a five-round shootout where Yanic Perreault, Alex Steen and Jeff O'Neill clicked and Andrew Raycroft stopped Sergei Brylin to clinch.
"We said on the bench, we can not lose this game and Tomas at the same time," coach Paul Maurice said as the Leafs' maintained 10th spot, but just two points out of eighth in the Eastern Conference.
"We're in desperation mode," Carlo Colaiacovo said.
DEFENCE STEPS UP
To Maurice, it felt like the biggest win of the season.
"It does, based on where we are, the pressure we've been under and the roll Jersey has been on with Brodeur maybe at his career best. What we did tonight was very impressive."
As if inspired by the loss of Kaberle, their top offensive blueliner, Colaiacovo, Ian White and Hal Gill all had a hand in goals 2:51 apart on shutout leader Brodeur. Nik Antropov and Matt Stajan tipped in shots by White and Gill, while Colaiacovo joined the rush to bury an Alex Steen pass.
"There is a bond among NHL defencemen and our guys really upped their intensity," Maurice said.
Brylin, however, scored on the power play with just 1:09 to go after beleaguered Bryan McCabe failed to clear the puck out of danger.
Newcomer Perreault, who won his first four draws, held on to the puck and beat Brodeur to keep the Leafs alive in the shootout.
"That was an easy choice -- someone we haven't used," Maurice said of the Leafs' awful 3-6 shootout record before last night.
Brodeur's week-long shutout streak at 124:13, while Raycroft got a measure of respect after being yanked in two straight games and being booed at home.
"We've shown guts rebounding all year long," Raycroft said.
"People have been dumping on us all week and I think tonight is just another example of us being resilient. We fought back again (after Brylin's goal)."
A scoreless first period ended with a bang, with Colin White drilling an off-balance Mats Sundin into the end boards. That brought Sundin's new right winger, Bates Battaglia into the fray, but he received a roughing call. Jersey parlayed that into its first goal, a low Jamie Langenbrunner point drive 57 seconds into the second period.
Jay Pandolfo, meanwhile, survived a board battle with Andy Wozniewski to get back in front and tip a shot home.
Toronto plays Buffalo at home tonight, the second time this week they've drawn the Sabres after playing the night before, though this time the visitors played last night as well.
B- Forwards: Finally made life difficult for Brodeur in front of the Devils net in the third period, scoring three goals, two on deflections.
B+ Defence: Took the game into their hands in the third, with good point shots and rushes. They had to scramble after the Tomas Kaberle injury.
C Goaltending: The Devils managed just one even strength goal on Leafs' Andrew Raycroft, who saw lots of traffic in front of him all night long.