Leafs catch a break

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

MONTREAL -- Matt Stajan and the Maple Leafs needed a break, any break.

That it came in the crazy confines of the Bell Centre, in the 751st game of a 90-year hockey war and with Toronto in early-season trauma, made it sweeter.

Instead of wasting a second fine goaltending performance from Vesa Toskala in the dying minutes, the Leafs edged the Habs 3-2 on Stajan's goal with 1:34 to play.

After he stopped a Saku Koivu rush, Stajan took an Ian White pass and, in trying to get the puck on the net for a line change, he beat Cristobal Huet on the glove side. Stunned for a split second, Stajan stopped by the boards and celebrated with two of the hundreds of Leafs fans among the crowd of 21,273.

"It's nice to get a bounce at last," Stajan said. "We've had so many go against us this year. Caber (Bryan McCabe) put one in his own net, I almost did on Vesa (last night), so this was a great feeling.

"I let it go and heard a thump when it hit the middle bar. That was pretty nice."

Toskala made 32 saves, beaten by a deflection off teammate Alexei Ponikarovsky's stick (credited to goalless defenceman Mike Komisarek) and Christopher Higgins on a 5-on-3 power play.

"I've felt (comfortable) all along," insisted Toskala, who has now put the goaltending controversy with Andrew Raycroft to rest with six straight starts and two wins with 30-plus saves. "So many bad bounces have ended up in our net. If we keep working hard, those bounces will come to us."

Despite playing the night before and losing a late decision to the Devils, the Leafs scored at 1:18 on the power play (Tomas Kaberle with his 11th in 43 games versus Montreal) giving their fans some ammunition to counter those of the red-hot Habs. Down 2-1 after the Higgins' goal, Mats Sundin's centring pass took a fortunate hop off Mathieu Dandenault.

Toronto's entourage woke up yesterday to local headlines such as "Battered Leafs limp into Bell Centre," and "Hungry Habs have Hogtowners on menu."

"We always turn it up here," Kaberle said. "It's fun to play with the crowd 50-50."

After stating he was going to "dismantle" the first power-play unit after a dreadful night in Jersey, Toronto coach Paul Maurice had just two full chances to experiment laset night and did so cautiously. But Stajan was out there to assist on the Kaberle goal.

When Chad Kilger couldn't get off a backhand with an empty net to break a 2-2 tie, it looked like the Leafs would be haunted again.

"But we know when we take the puck to the net, good things happen," Kaberle said.

Toronto, with a record of 6-6-3 and in the top eight of the conference, can now look forward to the return of forwards Mark Bell and Kyle Wellwood this week. The team is expected to get a day off today before the four-game road swing continues in Ottawa against the Senators on Tuesday.

White and partner Hal Gill logged 25 minutes last night after a busy evening in Jersey. But Gill said the crowd revitalized the Leafs.

"It's loud, everyone's into it and it seems like every play is the biggest of the game."

Koivu tipped his helmet to the visitors.

"They played a smart game," the captain said. "They didn't force our defence as they used to do, they played with patience. And they got the bounces."


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