Blake rings in New Year

Leafs forward Jason Blake gets in the face of Lightning goalie Karri Ramo during first period...

Leafs forward Jason Blake gets in the face of Lightning goalie Karri Ramo during first period action in Toronto. SUN MEDIA/Ernest Doroszuk

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

To begin the calendar year, the Maple Leafs need less Dick Clark in their lives and more Wendel Clark.

The attitude adjustment began last night, thanks to two players involved in the shootout in the final game of last season that killed Toronto's playoff hopes .

Jason Blake had his best night in two months with three points and special guest goalie Scott Clemmensen shut the door for the club's first shootout win of 2007-08, 4-3 over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The nail-biter evening at the Air Canada Centre had the requisite late Leafs letdown, with Paul Ranger scoring the tying goal with 41 seconds left in regulation.

But Clemmensen, making the best of a rare NHL start with Vesa Toskala's groin hurt and Andrew Raycroft's ego battered, made two of three shootout saves. That's the first Leafs victory in four of the deadly tiebreakers, which along with five overtime setbacks have put the Leafs in a hole.

"I haven't been around here that much, so I didn't think we'd have an (overtime) letdown," said Clemmensen, who brought enthusiasm from the first-place AHL Marlies into the dressing room. "We were a bad bounce from winning 3-2. All I knew was that (the late goal) wouldn't get to me."

The 30-year-old Iowan was in net for the New Jersey Devils when Blake's New York Islanders won in a shootout last April, squeezing past the Leafs for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

"I might trade that night for this," Leafs general manager John Ferguson said jokingly. "But Scott has carried himself well here and with the Marlies, helping Justin Pogge.

"Let's get to our next game in Pittsburgh and see what happens."

Coach Paul Maurice said Toskala won't be ready, giving Clemmensen the inside track, though Maurice is confident Raycroft will be better away from his personal house of horrors at the ACC.

Blake came to the Leafs with great fanfare off a 40-goal year with the Isles, but after early success with Mats Sundin he was moved down the pecking order of forward lines and was without a point in eight games.

But he was reunited with Sundin last night as part of a big line-change operation and the addition of energetic young Alex Steen was the perfect match. Blake scored and sprung Sundin for a breakaway that gave him 541 career goals, tied for 25th in NHL history with Stan Mikita.

"I was certainly generating chances (through the slump) and you keep doing what made you successful," said Blake, who has six goals.

Clemmensen made 28 saves before the Ranger goal, including one without his stick, but the Leafs set a tone early by not allowing a shot during a double minor to Pavel Kubina. Clemmensen's composure seemed to give the whole team a rhythm that Maurice had to admit has not been there with Raycroft the previous two games.

Hal Gill had the other Leafs regulation goal, with Andreas Karlsson and Martin St. Louis striking in regulation for conference cellar-dwelling Tampa. After Vince Lecavalier beat him on the first shootout attempt, Clemmensen blocked the other big guns on the Lightning, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards, while Sundin and Tomas Kaberle scored on Karri Ramo for the Leafs.

Though not stirring the same emotions as the Winter Classic down the road in snowy Buffalo, the grinding game was vital for the Leafs to stay in sight of the playoff pack. They hit the 40-point mark with the win.

Before the game Maurice was asked if there was any sort of mutual empathy between himself and Lightning coach John Tortorella after butting heads for so long during the Tampa-Carolina Hurricanes rivalry, with both their clubs struggling.

"It's not something that's in either of us," Maurice said.


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