Leafs back in hunt

Maple Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky (right) and Mats Sundin celebrate Ponikarovsky's goal...

Maple Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky (right) and Mats Sundin celebrate Ponikarovsky's goal against the Capitals on Tuesday. (Sun Media/Alex Urosevic)

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

As looks go, last night's Maple Leafs game ranked right up there with Cinderella's sisters.

The final score, though, was a thing of beauty: Toronto 3, Alex Ovechkin 0.

And, so, with the home win -- only the 13th of the season -- against the Washington Capitals, the Maple Leafs now hold a share of the final playoff spot.

"I don't think we were solely responsible for the sleeping pills," coach Paul Maurice said. "With a 3-0 shutout we should be smiling, but there wasn't much buzz about it. It was a bit like the outdoor practice we had this week."

Kinda ugly. Dull even. But, oh so profitable.

One of the biggest grins afterward belonged to Andrew Raycroft. A week ago he was booed off the ice. Last night he set aside 24 shots, including one superb stop on Ovechkin halfway through the third to earn his second shutout, and a career-high 30th win, of the season. It earned him the first star -- and a one-game reprieve from fans' ire.

"You know, you just roll with it," Raycroft said. "There's nothing you can do about (being booed). Besides, I'm my worst critic. It's something you learn to deal with because you don't have a choice. I'm not going to sit in my room and sulk and worry about it. Coming off last year there were a lot of questions around me. To win 30 it means I'm doing all right."

In the first period, when the game still was in doubt, he stopped Alexander Semin as both Chad Kilger and Yanic Perreault failed to clear the zone. Raycroft stymied Semin again from the slot near the halfway mark. Semin, knocked down in the slot, made his bid for goofiest play of the year when he tried to throw the puck toward the net with his gloved hand and had it go off the crossbar.

As chapters in the season go, this was a good one, but Raycroft knows it isn't the last one.

"We've still got a long way to go," Raycroft said "Tonight was one step. It wasn't an easy game."

In the goalless first, if Mats Sundin had spent any more time cruising around Capitals goalie Fred Cassivi, they would have had to have gotten married. Sundin and his linemates Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky had a half dozen good chances. Cassivi, making his first start for Washington, had his own pressure to deal with: His mom in Montreal told him prior to the game he had to win so her favourite team could keep ahead of the Leafs and he matched Raycroft for 20 minutes.

Then the Leafs kicked it into gear, got the forecheck working, sent players to the net and pretty much made Ovechkin disappear. Darcy Tucker opened the scoring three minutes eight seconds into the period when John Pohl broke in on the right wing. Cassivi made a stick save but the puck rebounded high into the slot where Tucker happened to be cruising. It bounced off his shoulder and into the net.

"After we scored we were quite a bit better; skated better, pressured better," Maurice said. "But as coaches you worry so much about a game like this because you have to win."

The Leafs play four of their final 16 games against teams with inferior records -- and last night was one of them.

"It would've been an ugly night if we hadn't won," Maurice said. "We got the business done but as games go that's about it."

Perreault scored his first goal in his third reincarnation as a Maple Leaf at 14:39 of the second when he cut in on the left wing, skated across the crease and flipped a backhand over the glove of Cassivi.

Ponikarovsky scored two minutes 47 seconds into the third.

"This is a game that meant a lot to us," Sundin said, "and maybe not so much to them."

It showed.

REPORT CARD

B+ Forwards: Just one week earlier, Darcy Tucker was in street clothes and Perreault was a Phoenix Coyote. Last night, both hit the scoresheet.

B Defence: Despite getting windburn a couple of times as Alexander Ovechkin breezed by them, Leafs defenders, for the most part, played a sound game.

A Goaltending: Loudly booed during his previous start at home, Andrew Raycroft posted his second shutout as a Leaf.


Videos

Photos