Every dog has his day

Curtis Joseph during warmup before pre-season action between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the...

Curtis Joseph during warmup before pre-season action between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Air Canada Centre October 5th, 2008. (Dave Abel/Sun Media)

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

Curtis Joseph came back last night, bringing the dormant Maple Leafs offence and an energetic crowd with him.

With his span between wins as a Leaf about to start on seven years, Joseph was victorious here for the first time since the 2002 playoffs on the strength of a strong closing 40 minutes and Pavel Kubina's overtime goal that beat Atlanta 4-3.

Nikolai Kulemin, Lee Stempniak and Jason Blake scored for Toronto in regulation, before Kubina sealed it with Tobias Enstrom in the box.

Toronto had 47 shots on hot Thrasher Johan Hedberg, one off its season high, but suffered the losses of winger Jeremy Williams (bruised shoulder) and defenceman Jonas Frogren (ribs on a shot block). Both will be evaluated today.

The Leafs ended their no-playoff calendar year on an overall winning note of 36-35-9, with their 36th point in 37 games closing within three of the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo is here New Year's Day, with Joseph scheduled to play again. The Leafs were down 2-0 in the first period, with a lack of support once more threatening to erode Joseph's confidence.

"You sum up all the (19 years) you've had in the past," Joseph said, after finally getting the 450th career win that eluded him all season. "Everything I did today was focused on hockey. I had to find that mental edge where you have to be sharp. No matter what."

The number 41 was figuring negatively in Joseph's world all week, his age, his record (0-4-1) and his goals-against average (4.12), but this old dog had some new tricks in stopping 29 shots. He shut out Ilya Kovalchuk on three shots (11 other shots were blocked or missed) and stopped a Jim Slater breakaway.

The sound of 19,260 at the Air Canada Centre chanting his name was the official reconciliation of Joseph's ill-fated decision to leave his home in search of a Cup.

"This is my dream job and sometimes you don't realize it until you're gone," he said. "I've got some ruby red slippers."

Cambridge's Bryan Little scored the opener and the Leafs promptly gave up another, Jaime Sifers beaten by a blueline pass that sprang Slater and saw Sifers sit much of the rest of the game. Joseph stopped Slater's shot, but a trailing Jeff Finger knocked it over the line, putting them down 2-0 for the 14th time this season. Little almost had another on a nice rush but hit the post.

"It could've been 3-0 and I don't know what would've happened then," a relieved Wilson said. "But we hung in."

Kulemin, Stempniak, Dominic Moore and Niklas Hagman had particularly strong games among the forwards. The Leafs had eked out just four goals in the previous three games, all losses.

PUCKS ON NET

"The whole thing is getting pucks on the net, creating a kind of havoc," Wilson said. "When you throw it on the net, the goalie has to stop it, the defence on the other team has to find it and you're in general attack mode. When you try and fool around with it, bad things happen."

Kulemin had an empty net on a sweet Mikhail Grabovski drop pass as the former went behind the net. Stempniak had his second in three games and Blake popped his eighth when Moore tipped Frogren's shot. It was the Swedish defenceman's second helper of the night.

"I want our team to have the same approach no matter who is in goal," Wilson said. "You have to play better defence. You can't have that approach that you're afraid that if any shots go on him, it's going to the net. We have to play the same way we would if Vesa (Toskala) was in, capitalize on our chances. We don't want a game where we're not getting any shots and just worrying about defending."

Joseph survived Colby Armstrong's game-tying goal on the power play with 6:43 to play.

"This was a fun atmosphere to play in, the loudest and most engaged crowd I've seen yet," newcomer Stempniak said. "When you win the first (of a four-game homestand), you get the crowd into it and interested in coming back the next night."

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REPLAY

RETRIBUTION

Dominic Moore has a long memory, going back a couple of games to when Atlanta's Colby Armstrong gave Toronto's Jason Blake a concussion with a borderline hit. When Armstrong started shoving in front of the Leafs bench, Moore jumped him, but picked up a roughing penalty.

SHOULDER WOES

The Leafs' injury list grew in the first period when winger Jeremy Williams suffered a shoulder injury after a hard hit into the boards by the Thrashers' Nathan Oystrick.

NO GO DEVEAUX

Enforcer Andre Deveaux took a puck off his foot in practice on Monday and was scratched last night. Ryan Hollweg took his spot on the fourth line.

A NEW HIGH

Dominic Moore's two assists last night gave him a career-high 19 points.

POINT-GETTERS

Toronto G A P

Nikolai Kulemin 1 0 1

Lee Stempniak 1 0 1

Jason Blake 1 0 1

Pavel Kubina 1 0 1

Jonas Frogren 0 2 2

Dominic Moore 0 2 2

Mikhail Grabovski 0 1 1

Nik Antropov 0 1 1

Alexei Ponikarovsky 0 1 1

Tomas Kaberle 0 1 1

Atlanta G A P

Bryan Little 1 0 1

Jim Slater 1 0 1

Colby Armstrong 1 0 1

Todd White 0 1 1

Slava Kozlov 0 1 1

Joey Crabb 0 1 1

Niclas Havelid 0 1 1

Ilya Kovalchuk 0 1 1

Erik Christensen 0 1 1

NEXT UP

Tomorrow -- 7 p.m.; Maple Leafs vs. Buffalo Sabres; LeafsTV, AM 640


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