Gerber's storybook start

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Early in the third period of Martin Gerber's storybook debut as a Maple Leaf, a gaggle of Toronto fans huddled in the upper deck of the Verizon Center began chanting his name.

"Really? I didn't hear that," the veteran goaltender admitted after his 37-save performance against the Washington Capitals.

Maybe not.

But you can bet those chants of "Gerber! Gerber!" were heard all the way up in Ottawa, where Senators fans also were yelling out his name earlier this season.

Of course, "Gerber Must Go" isn't the same thing.

Keeping that in mind, Sens fans must be shaking their heads in disbelief today upon learning that the same goalie who practically was chucked on to the scrap heap by the Ottawa organization has returned to the NHL with such authority.

Picked up on waivers by the Leafs just 24 hours earlier, Gerber was spectacular and was the game's first star in a 2-1 Toronto victory. The only blemish on his evening was a goal by Alexander Semin with just 39 seconds remaining that spoiled his shutout bid.

"I was a little nervous at the beginning," said Gerber, who becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. "But the guys played a great game in front of me.

"It's just nice to be back, to get another chance at this level. When you've been down -- way down -- like I've been, you appreciate the opportunity."

Asked if he was looking to prove something to Sens management, especially with the Leafs visiting Scotiabank Place on Monday, he laughed.

"That's up to you," he said. "But it will be special."

At least Gerber did not have to face Caps superstar Alex Ovechkin, who was a surprise scratch.

Having been plunked on the right foot by Caps assistant coach Dean Evason during practice on Wednesday, Ovechkin was still expected to play last night. After skating briefly on his own yesterday before his teammates took to the ice for their morning skate, all seemed good.

"He's fine," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said after the skate. Obviously not.

It was only the second NHL game that Ovechkin has missed because of injury, the first one coming during his rookie season of 2005-06.

Had this been a playoff game, Ovechkin said he would have "probably played with a broken leg."

But it wasn't.

Other than Sens fans, you know who isn't pleased this morning? That would be the members of Tank Nation, those Leafs fans who want their team to go down the toilet in order for them to get a shot at one of the top two draft picks in June.

Unfortunately for them, the Leafs have been doing anything but tank. In fact, last night's victory marked the eighth consecutive game in which Toronto has registered at least one point. It also was the first time in eight games that the Leafs had not played gone into overtime. Had they done it, it would have been an NHL record.

All of this was accomplished by a team that was missing its three of its top six scorers -- Nik Antropov, Dominic Moore and Niklas Hagman. Antropov and Moore were traded Wednesday while Hagman still is suffering the effects of a concussion from last week when he was elbowed in the head by the New York Islanders' Brendan Witt.

"We thought Nik might be back Saturday (against Edmonton) but it now appears he'll be out longer than that," coach Ron Wilson said of Hagman.

Lee Stempniak and Pavel Kubina scored third-period goals for Toronto.

Defenceman Jeff Finger, meanwhile, took 21 stitches above the left eye after being hit with a puck and said he would start wearing a shield.

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REPLAY

ORNERY ONDRUS

It didn't take Ben Ondrus long to make an impression, both on the Leafs coaching staff and on the Capitals.

Called up earlier in the day from the AHL Marlies, Ondrus dropped the gloves with the Caps' Matt Bradley just 8:27 into the game.

While lacking any solid knockout blows, the scrap was a spirited affair that lasted about 20 seconds before both players tumbled to the ice.

GOAL THAT WASN'T

John Mitchell appeared to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead at 13:41 of the first period, shovelling a loose puck into the empty net with goalie Jose Theodore out of position. The reason Theodore was nowhere near the puck? Because Jason Blake had knocked him out of the way, though he didn't receive an interference penalty.

POINT-GETTERS

Toronto G A P

Lee Stempniak 1 0 1

Pavel Kubina 1 0 1

Jeffrey Hamilton 0 1 1

Alexei Ponikarovsky 0 1 1

Matt Stajan 0 1 1

John Mitchell 0 1 1

Washington G A P

Alexander Semin 1 0 1

Nicklas Backstrom 0 1 1

NEXT UP

Tomorrow -- 7 p.m.; Leafs vs. Edmonton Oilers, at the Air Canada Centre; CBC, AM 640


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