Toskala burns Atlanta

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:41 AM ET

ATLANTA -- Of the 58 goals Boyd Devereaux has scored in parts of 10 National Hockey League seasons, none have come easier than the game-winner he managed last night.

But that is how things have suddenly turned for the now hot and near magical Maple Leafs.

They have been that good, that lucky, that weird, and that composed in winning five of six games this month -- beginning a seven-game trip last night with a 4-0 shutout of the troubled Atlanta Thrashers.

Strange stuff is going on with the Leafs. Unexplainable stuff. And nobody's about to complain about any of it.

"I just tried to not get too excited," Devereaux said. "I had a goal like this in Edmonton 10 years ago. I guess something like this happens about every 10 years."

The short-handed score by Devereaux was the kind of sign that everything and anything is going the Leafs' way right now. On a simple dump-in on a penalty kill, Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen -- he of the high draft pick bust -- went out to play the puck off the boards.

Only he missed the puck. Devereaux, skating at full speed, which in his case is considerable, picked up the puck behind the Atlanta net and wrapped it around into an unattended net to make it 1-0 Toronto.

"I just made sure I didn't blow it. I didn't want to blow it," he said.

There was no blowing it for Toronto last night. Just about everybody did their part with this surprisingly emerging team -- and goaltender Vesa Toskala continued to be nothing short of brilliant, posting his second shutout of the season: Both have come against high- scoring teams.

In the six games the Leafs have played in December, winning five, Toskala has been scored on eight times.

"Vesa is the main reason we're on this streak," said Leafs' captain Mats Sundin, who scored an odd goal himself. "This is the biggest thing that's happened to us all year."

The sharp goaltending -- a huge save on Ilya Kovalchuk in the second period altered the game -- in concert with stronger team defensive play, has the Leafs becoming the kind of team coach Paul Maurice has envisioned since the season began. Only now it's happening, partially because the Leafs are playing strong, smart hockey, and partially because every conceivable circumstance is going their way.

Take the case of Alexei Ponikarovsky, for example. The Leafs winger was knocked out of the game by big Bobby Holik in the second period. Ponikarovsky thought the hit was a cheap shot. Holik thought it was a body check.

It wasn't known if Ponikarovsky would play the third period, especially after biting down on his tongue and cutting himself for several stitches and bleeding badly.

Ponikarovsky didn't just come back: That would be too obvious. He came back and scored two late goals to ensure the easy victory for the Leafs.

"In my opinion it was a clear hit to the head," Ponikarovsky said. "It's not really nice. I didn't see him coming."

Holik disagreed.

"I can't believe you're asking the question," Holik said. "Did you see the play. Do you think it was dirty? Why are you asking the question."

The thing is, with the Leafs now, it doesn't really matter. Everything they do, everything they try, is working. They got two fluke goals and then an injured player came back and scored two. The script may change night to night just not the result. It is as though the clouds and controversy of November have turned to bright sunshine in December.

Toskala being hot sometime in the season was expected. Sundin being a point-a-game guy was almost expected. But Devereaux getting one gift goal and Sundin getting another just minutes later --well something seems aligned with something about now.

"This was a big win tonight, a big win," Sundin said. "We've got to take these (breaks) and run with them. It's been a long time coming."

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REPLAY

TURNING POINT

Goalie Kari Lehtonen misplayed a clearing shot on the power play enabling Boyd Devereaux to score an easy short-handed goal in the second period. Lehtonen, the second pick in the 2002 draft, gaffed on the Leafs' first two goals, neither of which had any business going in.

TOUGH PONI

Alexei Ponikarovsky had to be helped off the ice in the first period after he was hit hard by veteran Bobby Holik. Ponikarovsky bit his tongue, bled all over the place, was stitched up and returned to score two third period goals.

CYCLE LINE

The No. 1 line of Mats Sundin, Nik Antropov and Ponikarovsky scored three goals for the Leafs, and absolutely controlled puck possession down low. The Thrashers had no defensive answer.

RED HOT

Toskala had his second shutout of the season last night and has now allowed just eight goals against in his last six starts. His breakaway glove save on Ilya Kovalchuk changed the game.


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