Grabovski awakes in OT

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

The ghost that wears No. 84 for the Toronto Maple Leafs finally put a scare in another team.

Rookie centre Mikhail Grabovski has been largely invisible for the Leafs the last month or so, having scored zero goals in his past 17 games leading up to last night's contest at the Air Canada Centre against the lowly New York Islanders.

But Grabovski finally came to life, at least for a couple of seconds, scoring 50 seconds into OT, his 14th of the season, to lift the Leafs to a 3-2 victory over a feisty Islanders squad, snapping a two-game Toronto losing streak in the process.

Fought back

The young Belarusian picked up a rebound in the slot and fired it past Islander goalie Joey MacDonald as the Leafs fought back from a 2-1 third-period deficit. The relief in Grabovski's face afterwards was obvious.

"Before I had a lot of games where I had chances, but I couldn't score," he said. "It's my hands maybe. But coach believed in me and gave me a chance every game."

Yes, Toronto coach Ron Wilson did give Grabovski chances every game. With the recent trades of Nik Antropov and Dominic Moore for draft picks, and Niklas Hagman out with a concussion, he didn't really have much of a choice.

Still, the 24-year-old Grabovski has played poorly for weeks, taking shifts off and launching ill-advised solo rushes that have largely amounted to very little.

So while Wilson was pleased with Grabovski's game winner last night, not all is forgiven.

"Even during (last night's) game, there were times I didn't know where he was," Wilson said. "On a few changes when the centre came (to our bench), he wasn't ready (to go on the ice). He's worrying so much about scoring."

There was a buzz at the ACC in anticipation of what the Leafs might do to in response to a Feb.26 incident at Nassau Coliseum, when Islanders defenceman Brendan Witt elbowed Hagman in the head, resulting in a concussion.

Witt was slapped with a five-game suspension and his return happened to coincide with last night's game.

But the Leafs left Witt alone and generally looked flat for the first two periods, finally coming to life in the third when Alexei Ponikarovsky scored at 8:46 to tie it at 2-2.

Wilson credited his team's penalty killing with turning the tide. The Leafs were slapped with five consecutive minors in the second, but killed every one and have now killed 15 in a row.

Forward Lee Stempniak put Toronto ahead in the first period and had an all-round strong game. He even dropped the gloves for only the second time in his NHL career when he took on Bruno Gervais in the third period after the Islanders defenceman nailed him behind the net.

Wilson suggested that his team's slow start was a result of fatigue, having played an emotional game the night before in Ottawa against the Senators, a tough 2-1 loss.

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REPLAY

LAST NIGHT AT THE ACC

TORONTO

MAPLE LEAFS

(27-28-13)

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

(22-37-8)

SCRAPPY ROOK

Rookie defenceman Phil Oreskovic, playing in his second game with the Leafs, dropped the gloves against Islanders' winger Tim Jackman in the first period and scored a knockdown via a crisp, right hand.

GOTTA HURT

Toronto forward Jason Blake accidently collided with New York goaltender Joey MacDonald early in the second period beind the Islanders' net, with his leg accidentally hitting MacDonald's head after they went down. Both were down for a couple of minutes.

POINT-GETTERS

Toronto G A P

Alexei Ponikarovsky 1 1 2

Mikhail Grabovski 1 0 1

Lee Stempniak 1 0 1

Jeff Finger 0 1 1

Jason Blake 0 1 1

Anton Stralman 0 1 1

NYIslanders

Kyle Okposo 1 0 1

Blake Comeau 1 0 1

NEXT UP

Tomorrow -- 7:30 p.m.; Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning; SNO, AM 640


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