TORONTO - He may have made a handful of big, third-period saves to keep his team in the game and help earn a precious point.
But ultimately a disconsolate Jonas Gustavsson coughed up the game winner in overtime Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre on a shot that was headed wide.
It was a deflected, bouncing puck sure, a replay that the Monster acknowledged would likely give him nightmares. But after bouncing off his own equipment and into the net, it was a result that typified the past month or so for the Leafs when goaltending has been barely adequate at best and unreliable at worst.
“It’s not supposed to go in,” said Gustavsson, who was clearly blaming himself for the loss. “It’s too bad. The guys worked hard.”
Gustavsson did as well, with a strong third period highlighted by a handful of the big saves the team is going to need down the stretch. But a back-breaker five-hole goal to former Leaf Alexei Ponikarovsky late in the second will also keep Gustavsson up at night.
“This is a hard place to play goal, period,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “We’ve got to find a way to get them settled down and get confidence.”
It won’t get any easier this week, with the offensively charged San Jose Sharks coming into town Thursday.
It was a wild night for scoreboard watching, even if the ACC crew was slow updating the Winnipeg-Philly drama in the third period. Heading into the final minute of each game, the Leafs look destined for a loss and the Jets for a win. Instead, both teams left their respective buildings with a single point to keep the Leafs on top ... Rough-and-tumble opening period for Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, who took a poor tripping penalty after Danius Zubrus beat him to the outside. Later, Phaneuf clocked Zack Parise with a hard hit then held his own in the obligatory follow-up scrap with David Clarkson ... Phaneuf and Clarkson spent a good chunk of their fighting majors chirping at each other in the penalty box ... Speaking of Toronto boy Clarkson, he certainly loves playing his home-town team. Beating an out-of-position Gustavsson with the Devils’ second goal was his 23rd of the season and fourth in three games vs. the Leafs ... There was a lot to hate about the Leafs play on Ponikarovsky’s go-ahead effort in the second. An inability to compete along the boards allowed the former Leaf to glide into the slot to beat Gustavsson ... Ponikarovsky will no doubt relive his goal to his Toronto neighbours over a beverage this summer when he returns to his off-season home. “I met my wife here, I got married here, had three kids here,” said Ponikarovsky, whose goal was standing up as the game winner until Phil Kessel forced overtime in the final minute. “It’s my summer residence, too. It’s the place where I became a player. I have a lot of good memories here.”
You know it’s driving him crazy, but Colby Armstrong was a healthy scratch for the third time in five games Tuesday and it would be difficult to argue with Wilson’s call. Every player recovers from a concussion at a different speed and whether that’s Armstrong’s problem or not, he’s been nowhere near the effective player he can be since returning ... If Gustavsson was planning to lie awake Tuesday night, expect the same from defenceman Jake Gardiner, who bounced one off the post in OT just before Mark Fayne’s game winner ... Great twitter info from @randynumbers who tells us Tim Connolly’s goal 16 seconds after Clarkson’s was the Leafs fastest “answer goal” in more than two years ... Prior to this loss, the Leafs were 7-0-0 when Connolly scores ... Dangerous to read too much into it, but ’tis the season. There were a handful of pro scouts from other teams in the ACC press box (as usual.) And yes, there was one from the Columbus Blue Jackets ... With his 18th of the season Monday (and first in seven games) Clarke MacArthur is now just three goals shy of his career-high 21 ... If you’re thinking Parise would look good in blue and white, think again. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello told the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons between periods that Parise “is a Devil and he’s not going anywhere.”
Devils coach Peter DeBoer got understandably fired up when John-Michael Liles nailed Clarkson with an open-ice hip check. Trouble was, the puck was barely in the GTA ... Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk didn’t have a point until his overtime assist on the game winner, but he was the best player on the ice ... These aren’t necessarily your father’s Devils. Rather than sit on the one-goal lead, they came hard at the Leafs in the third and continued their run as the hottest team in the league since the all-star break ... At age 39, few would have been surprised if Brodeur would have retired the goalie gear after this season. Instead, the future hall of famer got himself a new set of pads and a new lease on his NHL career. “I’m having a blast right now and I just want to continue this year having fun and make the decision later on,” said Brodeur, who made 29 saves on Tuesday. “But definitely it’s looking pretty good for me to come back.”