Leafs survive Avalanche

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

DENVER -- Now that's more like the Andrew Raycroft Maple Leafs fans loved.

To jeer, that is.

Facing his former team for the first time since being bought out last summer, Raycroft proved to be a gracious host for the visitors, allowing seven goals on the first 29 shots he faced in the 7-4 Leafs victory over the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center.

Raycroft was the perfect medicine for a number of slumping Leafs, who had not found the back of the net since December.

Defenceman Jeff Finger, for one, had not scored since Dec. 1, so collecting his third goal of the season was a real bonus, considering he was making his first appearance against his former club since signing a four-year, $14 million US free-agent deal over the summer.

Then there was veteran forward Nik Antropov, who snapped a 16-game scoreless streak by beating Raycroft just 112 seconds into the game. If the Leafs want to peddle the lanky Antropov in the next five weeks, they'd love to see him get hot in order to increase the interest in him.

Mikhail Grabovski, meanwhile, had gone 11 games without scoring before beating Raycroft last night.

"It was good to see some of the guys get their confidence back," coach Ron Wilson said.

The victory, which snapped a four-game losing funk, was especially sweet for Finger, who was playing in front of dozens of friends.

"I'd be lying if I said this didn't mean a lot," Finger said. "To score here is special. This is a special place. This is where I got my start in the league."

Finger was named the game's first star, scoring once, recording three hits and blocking four shots.

As for Antropov, the early goal was a huge weight off his shoulders. After scoring 13 times in the team's first 32 games, it was beginning to feel like he never would get another one.

"I was getting a lot of chances the past few games, so I was encouraged one would come," Antropov said.

"This was a real nice team win. We really needed this one."

Enigmatic rookie Nikolai Kulemin chipped in with a pair of assists in what Wilson called "his best game of the season."

The Leafs still are struggling between the pipes.

While Vesa Toskala did outduel Raycroft, his goaltending partner of a year ago, he still looked shaky at times. Wilson has not been happy with his goalies this year, and last night's performance did little to alleviate his disappointment.

"Our goaltending has not been good," Wilson said earlier in the day. "It is something that must improve."

Jason Blake scored the game-winner midway through the third period, snapping a 4-4 tie. Dominic Moore also had a big night, scoring twice for the winners.

But no one enjoyed the evening more than Finger, who missed the previous seven games with a torn biceps.

"It means a lot to the team," he said. "And me, too."


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