Leafs find a groove

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

The Bee Gees aren't the music of choice in the Maple Leafs weight room after a game, but a full decibel version of Stayin' Alive would have been apropos last night.

Though not in the playoff eight, not at .500 and not yet safe from personnel changes, Toronto's free fall has stopped.

A 4-2 stand against Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins at the Air Canada Centre gave the Leafs back to back wins for just the second time this season and five of a possible six points this week.

"This isn't the NFL where you can have (a perfect season)," Nik Antropov said. "It's a long year and anything can happen. But when we put up 40 shots like we did (twice this week), we just proved to ourselves we could score."

At the other end of the rink, Vesa Toskala's 30 saves led the way, but general manager John Ferguson's other two controversial pick-ups this year, Mark Bell and Jason Blake, found the scoresheet. It was Blake's first since Oct. 18 and Bell's first as a Leaf after missing the first 15 games of the year on suspension.

"Our defence has improved going back a few weeks," coach Paul Maurice said, with last night just the second time in 12 games they've allowed in excess of 30 shots. "You go back to the Ottawa game (a 3-0 shutout win on Nov. 17) as the most defensive game we've played. Your biggest fear is that you can play good offence or defence, but you can't do both. We've had some balance now."

The Leafs were a bounce away from having the Pens complete a three-goal third period comeback as Ryan Malone and Erik Christensen scored and Mats Sundin won a hard draw off Sidney Crosby that hit Toskala and went right back to Malone.

But Malone, foiled on a third-period breakaway, missed and Alexei Ponikarovsky added an empty-netter.

Sundin's assist on Bell's game-opening goal made club history, giving him points in all 15 home games to start the year. The old franchise record was 14 by Cecil (Babe) Dye in 1924-25 for the Toronto St. Patricks. Sundin has eight goals and 15 assists in that span.

"We've certainly simplified our game," Sundin said. "We just have to play that way consistently."

Pittsburgh killed a couple of brief 5-on-3s and had an odd-man rush with Evgeni Malkin in the mix, but the play went awry and led to a 2-on-0 with Kyle Wellwood and Blake. Wellwood bagged his second assist in as many games with Blake finally putting the weeks of frustration behind him.

In the interim, Blake had taken almost 100 shots without success and had been sidetracked with every distraction possible, from the team's losing streak, to criticism of Ferguson for signing him, to the Sean Avery incident. Bryan McCabe banked a power-play goal in off Antropov to make it 3-0 and put the game in Toskala's hands.

The Finn had a mischievous grin when asked about sticking his leg out to trip Crosby as he passed by the crease in the second period.

"That's a hard team for a small goalie to play against, because they do so many things from in tight," Maurice said.

Crosby was held to an assist last night and the Pens and Leafs remain neck-and-neck in the standings.

"They jumped on us pretty quickly and you have to expect that here," Crosby said. "We can't give up a 2-0 lead, that's unacceptable. Tonight we didn't play well and that's why it's a tougher loss to take."

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REPLAY

TURNING POINT

The 2-0 breakaway with Kyle Wellwood and Jason Blake, producing a goal after the Penguins thought they were out of the woods killing a double minor.

HALL OF A GUY

Mats Sundin's assist, his 1,275th NHL point, moved him past recent Hall of Fame inductee Al MacInnis into 31st in league scoring history.

GAME STAR

An efficient game by Vesa Toskala overcame the few clearing errors the Leafs did make. Any time you blank Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin in a game, it's a bonus.

STAT OF THE GAME

For one of the few times in the past 10 games, the Leafs allowed more than 25 shots, but allowed just two goals.

MISSING VETERANS

Penguins right winger Mark Recchi was a healthy scratch for the fifth game in a row as the Penguins try to trade him. Former Maple Leaf Gary Roberts has only one goal for the Penguins in 24 games.


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