Leafs edged in Carolina

Toronto Maple Leafs' Dion Phaneuf (L-R), goaltender Ben Scrivens, David Steckel and Carl Gunnarsson...

Toronto Maple Leafs' Dion Phaneuf (L-R), goaltender Ben Scrivens, David Steckel and Carl Gunnarsson and Carolina Hurricanes' Tuomo Ruutu (L) and Jeff Skinner (53) watch as Hurricanes' Jay Harrison (not pictured) scores a first period goal during their NHL hockey game in Raleigh, North Carolina, November 20, 2011. (REUTERS/Ellen Ozier)

Lance Hornby, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. - The Maple Leafs are used to going from feast to famine in a hurry the past few years, but not in less than a day.

In another harsh reality of the NHL for this young team with playoff aspirations, they know to be ready for such bends in the road, as a four-game trip that got underway right after their most lopsided win of the season. Bushed from flying south after Saturday’s game — or from all that celebratory arm-raising in a 7-1 win over Washington — the Leafs sleep-walked through 40 minutes against the Hurricanes before making a game of it.

Carolina, in a must-win situation for embattled coach Paul Maurice, hung on for a 3-2 win, but not before two Phil Kessel goals made it a nail-biter.

“It’s weird right now,” said goaltender Ben Scrivens, who made 38 saves. “I thought we’ve played three or four really good games in a row and thought we deserved a better fate instead of just one win). We have to take the positives and we’ve had a lot more of those lately.”

Kessel’s league-leading 15th and 16th goals early in the third saved the Leafs from being the first Toronto team in almost eight years to win a game by six goals and be shut out the next. But that 2004 feat was separated by a full day off, not a 1:30 a.m. arrival in Raleigh and a 5 p.m. puck drop. The Leafs have not won consecutively since Nov. 2-3.

“We’re a little tired, but that’s no excuse,” Kessel said. “You have to play a lot of back-to-back in this league and you have to battle throughout.”

Moments after the first Kessel goal made it 2-1, Joey Crabb nearly tied it. Scrivens, who kept the Leafs in with a huge first period and then two stops in the third on Staal, stopped a breakaway by the latter before Toronto-area native Jeff Skinner followed up for the eventual winner. Defencemen Cody Franson and John-Michael Liles had pinched, in hopes of the tying goal.

“We didn’t need two guys diving in there,” said coach Ron Wilson, though he understood their zeal.

You knew the Leafs were struggling when young legs such as Matt Frattin, Joe Colborne, Kessel and Tyler Bozak were taking penalties. Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, who each had a field day Saturday, had no shots through the first two periods, while the Canes were winning 70% of faceoffs.

The Leafs, on a high from beating the Caps, made no lineup changes, even though they’ve brought defenceman Korbinian Holzer along on the trip as insurance. They could have winger Clarke MacArthur back on the second line by Tuesday’s game in Tampa Bay.

Defenceman Jay Harrison, one the five ex-Leafs in the Canes’ lineup, wristed his second goal and eighth point past a screened Scrivens with 29 seconds to play in the first period.

“A hiccup,” as Wilson called it, though he was not happy at the discrepancy in penalty calls that kept the Leafs short six times and Carolina just twice. Yet the Leafs made their 4-on-3 count to give them power-play goals in four straight games.

Toronto mustered just four shots on Cam Ward in the first period and 25 overall. It might have been in better shape had it escaped without the deflating late goal. Harrison’s goal represented struggling Carolina’s first goal in seven periods (154:55) and brought on a Stanley-Cup style celebration on the ice and the bench.

Wilson had to like the work of Scrivens, who not only kept the dreadful Leafs in the first period, but raised the bar against Jonas Gustavsson, who’d made 40 saves the night before. In the second period, Scrivens had to make a couple of saves without a stick before Jussi Jokinen put one in off Luke Schenn with Frattin in the box. That’s 11 points in as many games against the Leafs by Jokinen, with ex-Leaf Alexei Ponikarovsky getting the second assist.

Carolina coach Maurice knows more than most that the whole NHL gears up to play the Leafs.

“That is one of the challenges that Toronto faces,” the former coach told the Raleigh Observer before the game. “There are so many kids in the league from that area that everybody at home is watching. Everybody gets up for Toronto.”

Check out a recap of our in-game chat.


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