Grabovski gives Leafs OT win

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

ATLANTA — Overtime had barely started Thursday night when the always sharp-tongued Ron Wilson looked over at assistant Keith Acton.

“When is Grabo going to wake up?” Wilson asked Acton, referring to enigmatic forward Mikhail Grabovski.

Ten seconds later, Grabovski deflected a Dion Phaneuf feed past Atlanta Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, giving Wilson’s young Maple Leafs a 2-1 victory at Philips Arena.

Ask and ye shall receive, coach.

“I guess I put the coach’s kibosh on him,” Wilson said with a chuckle.

Hey, whatever works.

And these days, most everything is.

Thanks to Grabovski’s heroics, the post-Olympic Cinderella ride of the Maple Leafs continues to impress on a number of fronts.

Sure, this team will not make the playoffs for a franchise-record fifth consecutive season. But the way these kids are piecing together this late season run continues to provide optimism for the future, nonetheless.

First off, they have now won the past six games in which they have gone to either overtime or a shootout. Contests such as these used to be the team’s Achilles heel. Not any more.

Secondly, they are now 8-3 in their past 11 games. These guys aren’t just talking about being spoilers for playoff-bound teams. They are spoilers.

Finally, how about goalie Jonas Gustavsson, a pending restricted free agent at the end of the season? Plagued by a pair of heart surgeries and a groin injury in the first half of the season, Gustavsson certainly is earning a shot at a new contract down the stretch, having now won six consecutive starts.

“It is easier when the team is playing better in front of you like we are,” Gustavsson said.

It is also easier when you are spending more time out on the ice than in the trainer’s room.

“I think this is what he envisioned when he came over here to the NHL,” Leafs VP of hockey operations Dave Poulin said after the game. “He had very high expectations of himself.

“In fairness, he wasn’t healthy in the early going. Now he is. And he’s proving just how good he can be.”

So, for that matter, is Phil Kessel, who scored his 29th goal of the season.

Mats Sundin and Alex Mogilny are the only Leafs to hit the 30-goal plateau in the past decade. Sundin accomplished the feat on several occasions while the at-times flashy, always entertaining Mogilny did it in 2003.

Now, Kessel threatens to join that exclusive club.

Kessel had the wind knocked out of him late in the game from a hit by Mark Popovic, but was able to return. When asked if it was an “upper body injury,” he merely chuckled.

Far too often of late, the Kessel-Tyler Bozak-Nikolai Kulemin line has supplied the majority of Toronto’s offence. That’s why it was a relief for all concerned to see some secondary scoring from Grabovski.

“It was a good pass from Phaneuf,” said Grabovski, who scored his 10th of the season. “It was just nice to get a chance to play that first shift (in overtime).”

Highly touted second-year defenceman Zach Bogosian opened the scoring at 10:40 of the first period, blasting a shot past a screened Gustavsson for his 10th of the year to put the hosts up 1-0.

Just over a minute later, Kessel replied for the Leafs, taking a nice pass from Kulemin.

After that, the stage was set for Grabovski’s heroics at the 39-second mark of overtime.


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