Vesa does his part

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:01 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Describing the Maple Leafs offence as anemic would be giving blood conditions a bad name.

The Leafs managed a mere 21 shots at New York Rangers goaltender Stephen Valiquette through three periods, and a five-minute overtime last night, and at least a half dozen of those came during a power-play in OT.

But thanks largely to the efforts of goaltender Vesa Toskala, who stopped all 32 shots he faced, the visiting Leafs managed to earn a point in a 1-0 shootout loss at Madison Square Garden.

Rangers forward Fredrik Sjostrom tucked the puck past a sprawling Toskala for the winning goal. Sjostrom was the third shooter for New York. Nikolai Zherdev scored and Toskala stopped Nigel Dawes before the Sjostrom shot.

Jason Blake had a chance to tie it after Sjostrom scored, but couldn't beat Valiquette.

Still, Toskala gets credit for a shutout. The previous Toronto goalie to shutout the Rangers in New York was Johnny Bower on Jan. 10, 1965.

Toskala was spectacular at times, as was the case with less than a minute left when he made a huge glove save on winger Nigel Dawes. He also made a big save on defenceman Michal Rozsival in OT.

The goal posts were his good friends, as well. The Rangers nearly took the lead midway through the third when a Ryan Callahan deflection of a Scott Gomez shot beat Toskala but rang off both posts behind him. On the same shift, defenceman Daniel Girardi also hit the post.

Last night's game marked the return of Matt Stajan, after the veteran centre was scratched for last Monday's game against the St. Louis Blues -- not so much because head coach Ron Wilson felt Stajan earned a spot in the lineup, but because former Ranger Ryan Hollweg has been suspended for three games.

Stajan had a good outing, killing numerous penalties, also getting some power-play time and skating with the top line for a spell.

The 2002 Leafs draft pick had played all 164 games for the Leafs in the last two seasons but had found himself in Wilson's doghouse from the start of the season and there is increasing pressure on him to perform. The fifth-year Leaf seems to be having trouble adapting to Wilson's up-tempo forechecking system.

It's reached the point where he has become a target of trade rumours, with several teams, including Washington, Carolina, the New York Islanders and Colorado said to be interested.

His play has not been spectacular (he has zero points in three games), but may also be the victim of a new coach not fully appreciating what he brings to a game.

"There's a new coaching staff here and they're not just going to hand (a spot in the lineup) to you," Stajan said.

"I'm going to do everything I can to prove that it shouldn't happen. I'm going to go out there and work as hard as I can. But, at the same time, it shouldn't take for me to be (scratched) for a game to come out (playing hard). I've never gone into a game laid-back. I think I've always tried to give it my all."

The Leafs and Rangers went scoreless in the first period, with the Leafs only managing five shots on goal, with Toronto forward Dominic Moore ringing a shot off the post, and the Rangers seven.

It was much of the same in the second, as Valiquette faced only seven more shots while the Rangers peppered 10 at Toskala. Early in the frame, Stajan got nailed on a clean, open-ice hit by defenceman Marc Staal, prompting Mayers to go after the Rangers youngster.

Toronto rookie defenceman Jonas Frogren did a great job tying up Gomez on a deflection right in the crease. Gomez got his stick on it, but wasn't able to deliver any mustard and Toskala was able to make the save before the puck dribbled into the net.

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REPLAY

TURNING POINT

Goalless after regulation time and tied 1-1 after two shootout rounds, Rangers' Fredrik Sjostrom snuck the puck between Vesa Toskala's skate and the post on a deke for the game-winner.

BIG TIME ATTACK

The Leafs will get a rude greeting when the puck drops tonight at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh. Penguins' head coach Michel Therrien will reunite his two superstars -- Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- on the same line, along with Pascal Dupuis at left wing. Malkin, a natural centre, will play the right side.

Therrien is making the move as the Penguins have scored only five goals in 5-on-5 situations in as many games.

Crosby is without a goal, the worst start in his four-year NHL career. Jordan Staal, who had played left wing on a line with Malkin, will centre a second unit with Ruslan Fedotenko and Petr Sykora.

DOG AND PONI

Winger Alexei Ponikarovsky may be looking at some press box time if he continues to play as he did last night, an effort that included taking a lazy hooking penalty in the third period. He was replaced on the top line with Matt Stajan.

CARBON COPY

For the second game in a row, Leafs' rookie winger Nikolai Kulemin scored during the shootout. And as he did against Blues' Manny Legace on Monday afternoon, Kulemin went high stick-side on Rangers' Stephen Valiquette.

GOT THEIR NUMBER

Valiquette, an Etobicoke native, beat Toronto twice at the Air Canada Centre last season and entered last night with a 2-0 career mark against the Leafs with a 1.79 goals-against average in four games.


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