New Jersey Devils goaltender and former Maple Leafs farmhand Scott Clemmensen will be having nightmares of Jason Blake for some time to come.
Blake pulled off one of the most spectacular moves in recent shootout history to score on Clemmensen last night at the Air Canada Centre and give the Leafs a 3-2 victory.
Toronto's fourth shooter, Blake charged in on Clemmensen, slammed on the brakes in front of the net, did the old Savardian spin-o-rama, and then backhanded a shot past the bewildered Jersey goaltender.
"He was either going to be a hero or a bum, because anything can happen (with that move)," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said afterwards. "But I think it took a lot of guts to try that."
Blake said he had tried the move quite a bit in practice, but never in a game situation and realized that it could turn out to be spectacular or, if he failed, ridiculous.
"Obviously, you don't want to look stupid," he said. "But you might as well try it. If you don't make it, you don't make it. But it's better than going down and just shooting it and missing the net."
"Everyone has been saying, 'If you ever get the chance, just try that move. It's not going to hurt.' And it worked," he added.
Brian Rolston had a chance to tie it for Jersey, but he fired a slap shot at Toronto goaltender Vesa Toskala from quite far out, and the Finn got a shoulder on it. The win lifted the Leafs to .500 at 12-12-6. The Devils, losers of two straight, fell to 16-9-3.
There were suggestions after the game that Blake's goal actually was illegal, that he had stopped his forward motion. But Wilson said the goal was fine, as the rules for forward motion in shootouts had been relaxed this season. Still, Clemmensen, who has played tremendously in place of Martin Brodeur since the Hall of Famer went out with an elbow injury early in November, wasn't impressed.
"From a goalie's standpoint, I don't like it," he said. "But in the post-lockout, they want things more exciting. And I guess moves like that make SportsCentre. So I guess you have to live with it."
The game was tied 2-2 in regulation time, with the Leafs getting stronger as the match progressed. The five minutes of overtime provided plenty of excitement. Rookie centre Mikhail Grabovski brought the ACC crowd of 19,315 to its feet with an end-to-end rush and then Toskala stoned Devils centre Travis Zajac with a pad save on a breakaway just before time expired. Toskala also made two big saves -- on Patrik Elias and Zach Parise -- in the last minute of the game to force the game into OT. The Finn has been red-hot of late, giving up just five goals in Toronto's past three games and the Leafs appear to be gaining confidence with him in net.
"He had a bad couple of weeks (before that), a mini-slump, and he put a lot of hard work in with (goaltending coach) Corey Hirsch in practice for two weeks," Wilson said of his goaltender. "The work he has put in is starting to show."
The Leafs did not start the game like a team that hadn't played in four days, managing only five shots on Clemmensen and generally looking listless. The Devils jumped ahead 1-0 when Michael Rupp jumped on a rebound to beat Toskala, who had just stoned Colin White on a 2-on-1.
Toronto stormed back in the second and tied it at 7:24 on Nik Antropov's 11th of the season, on a rebound. Recent callup Jeremy Williams continued his amazing scoring ways, stealing the puck on the side boards, skating to the high slot and then beating Clemmensen with a hard wrist shot to the glove side to put the Leafs ahead 2-1 -- his third goal in his third game as a Leaf this season. And then with Jeff Finger in the box for tripping, Parise scored his 17th of the season with 20 seconds left in the period.
"Obviously, I'm having a great time," Williams said of time with the big club. "It's my dream. It's something I've been working for the last five years. And to be able to come in and get an opportunity that Ron's giving me and playing with guys like (Dominic) Moore and (Jason) Blake, it's making the game so much easier for me."
WHAT A MOVE
Jason Blake won the game for the Leafs with a nifty spin-o-rama move that fooled former Leafs backup Scott Clemmensen.
Rookie Nikolai Kulemin was put on the top line with centre Matt Stajan and Nik Antropov, in an effort to get his scoring touch going. Kulemin took the spot normally belonging to Alexei Ponikarovsky, who lined up with centre Mikhail Grabovski and Lee Stempniak.
STOP AND DROP
With the Leafs down 1-0 early in the first, Andre Deveaux, who has been criticized for backing away from a couple of scraps, dropped the gloves with Devils defenceman Jay Leach and earned a decision.
Leafs players donated their personal tickets for last night's game against the Devils to three children's charities for underprivileged kids: the Peel Children's Aid Foundation, Make-a-Wish Toronto and Sick Kids Hospital Foundation. The children also got to meet and greet the players following the game. In addition, rookie defenceman Luke Schenn signed cookbooks outside of Centre Sports at Air Canada Centre before the game.
Toronto G A P
Nik Antropov 1 0 1
Jeremy Williams 1 0 1
Tomas Kaberle 0 2 2
Matt Stajan 0 1 1
Mike Rupp 1 0 1
Zach Parise 1 0 1
Patrick Elias 0 1 1
Paul Martin 0 1 1