Persistence pays for Leafs

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:14 AM ET

Like the guy who finally convinces the girl to go out with him on Valentine's Day, the Maple Leafs learned last night how nicely persistence can pay off.

Rather than wilt in the face of Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who resembled a healthy Martin Brodeur in the opening 30 minutes, the Leafs had Fleury looking more like Andre (Red Light) Racicot by final buzzer. A 6-2 victory was the result, supported by five goals in the third period, the second time this season the Leafs have scored five times in the final 20 minutes to secure a win at the Air Canada Centre.

The Leafs figured they were on to something during the second intermission. There were no faceoffs in their end in the second period and at 12:53, Nik Antropov finally beat Fleury during a scramble in front of the net, cutting the Penguins' lead to 2-1.

"After the second, there was a great feeling in the dressing room," Antropov said. "(Coach Ron) Wilson wants us to shoot and that's what we were doing. We knew we were taking over."

Jason Blake, who might want to jam Dominic Moore into his suitcase in the small chance he is traded before the deadline on March 4, scored two goals within 19 seconds by the 1:14 mark of the third. Then John Mitchell got one after some fine forechecking by Mikhail Grabovski. Next it was Alexei Ponikarovsky, stuffing in an Antropov rebound. The barrage ended at 15:52 when Matt Stajan, who had three points to equal his career high of 39, scored his 13th of the season. Defenceman Ian White, meanwhile, was plus-5.

It was just the 10th win of the season for the Leafs at home. Only the Atlanta Thrashers, with nine home wins, have fewer.

The Leafs, who reeled off five third-period goals against the New York Rangers Nov. 1, checked Sidney Crosby into the ice and held him pointless, while Evgeni Malkin, the NHL's scoring leader, had one assist. In their past three games against Pittsburgh, all wins, Toronto has scored 18 goals.

"They seem to be the elixir for us," Wilson said. "(But) don't plan a parade route. We're not a Stanley Cup contender where we're going to pack together 10 games in a row where we dominate the league. This is going to pop up every once in a while.

"We skated well. We were diligent."

Said Crosby: "We just fell apart. There's nothing we can do but try to erase that one and move on."

Goalie Vesa Toskala shook off a shaky start, one that saw the Penguins get goals from Matt Cooke and Bill Thomas in the opening nine minutes. Thomas' goal was shorthanded, and to the short side over Toskala's left shoulder. But after a few sarcastic cheers from many in the crowd of 19,365, Toskala was sharp and made a big save on Crosby late in the first.

"I can't control the crowd and that doesn't change what I'm doing," Toskala said. "I think we played one of the best full 60 (minutes) we've played in a long time."

Blake has 21 goals and continued to demonstrate the kind of play that saw him net 40 for the New York Islanders two years ago and subsequently land a hefty contract in Toronto.

"It's a strange game," said Blake, who would have had a hat trick had Fleury not made a monstrous glove save on him later in the third. "Playing with Dominic has been great. We're not too fancy and we use our speed. With (Lee Stempniak) on the line it has been good. Overall it was a great team win."

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REPLAY

NO LOVE

After giving up two quick goals in the first period, Toronto goaltender Vesa Toskala received the Bronx cheer from the Maple Leafs faithful every time he made an easy save.

PENS RUN DRY

Despite boasting the top two scorers in the NHL in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the Penguins managed just five shots in the second period, but still led 2-1.

WHAT A SAVE

Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury robbed Jason Blake of a hat trick with a diving glove save midway through the third period.

THAT HURTS

Toronto forward Nik Antropov barely made it to the bench after blocking a Brooks Orpik shot early in the third period.

RUSLAN RETURNS

Winger Ruslan Fedotenko was back in Pittsburgh's lineup after missing 15 games because of a broken right hand.

TERRY.KOSHAN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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