Leafs' Blake burns Pens again
Jason Blake scored goals 19 seconds apart in the third period to put the Toronto Maple Leafs ahead to stay in a 6-2 victory over the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.
Blake, who added an assist, had two points and the winning goal in a 5-4 win over Pittsburgh two weeks earlier. The speedy forward now has 11 goals and 10 assists in the last 13 games.
"I thought we did a great job in the second and third period of getting pucks deep and recovering pucks and getting shots on net," Blake told Hockey Night in Canada. "It's just one of those nights. I thought we did a great job forechecking and we played good, solid defence and [were] fortunate to get a good, solid win tonight."
The Maple Leafs scored six unanswered goals, with Matt Stajan and Nik Antropov leading the way with a goal and two assists each.
Alexei Ponikarovsky had a goal and assist, and John Mitchell also scored for Toronto (21-25-10). Dominic Moore contributed two assists.
Toskala strong after weak start
Goalie Vesa Toskala settled down after another poor start, finishing with 25 saves.
Matt Cooke and Bill Thomas put Pittsburgh up 2-0 in the first, but the Penguins would squander the lead and a chance to get closer to the Eastern Conference playoff line. Pittsburgh (27-25-5) remains five points back of the last spot.
Captain Sidney Crosby was noticeably croaky in pre- and post-game interviews, but many of his teammates didn't have the sickness excuse for their play over the final 40 minutes, during which Toronto outshot the Penguins 29-16.
"In the third we just fell apart," said Crosby. "We lost momentum there and we never got it back."
Pittsburgh has won just three of its last eight, with Saturday's outcome not likely to quell rumours about Michel Therrien's coaching future with the club.
"It's up to the players," Therrien told reporters. "There's a price to pay to win games on the road and right now we're having a hard time staying focused and executing."
The positive for the Penguins came from the season debut of all-star defenceman Sergei Gonchar, who had been out with a shoulder injury. Gonchar played 20 minutes and was a minus-1.
The game started badly for Toronto, with several Leafs caught standing around early as Penguins got multiple whacks at the puck, with Cooke poking it through Toskala's pads just 83 seconds after puck drop.
The Maple Leafs then allowed a short-handed goal just past eight minutes into the contest. The puck escaped Pavel Kubina at the blue-line, with Jordan Staal picking it up and making a cross-ice pass to Thomas. His slapshot somehow found room on the short side on Toskala.
Marc-Andre Fleury was doing his part early, stopping Brad May's shot from the slot.
Toskala bounced back to make a key sliding save on Ryan Whitney on a power play late in the period.
The Maple Leafs have been outscored by 28 goals in the first period this season, by far the worst margin in the league.
Fleury would deny Nicklas Hagman and hear the favourable sound of the crossbar on Mikhail Grabovski's shot, but the Leafs would soon claw back.
Antropov and the Leafs finally broke through at the 12:53 mark on a power play. The face off went back to Jeff Finger, whose shot found its way in front to the big forward to re-direct past Fleury.
Blake began his show of stickhandling early in the third by picking up Ian White's shot in front of Fleury, turning and backhanding the puck into the net just 55 seconds into the frame.
On the next sequence, Blake received Moore's pass and spun around to his forehand to beat the Penguins goalie. He reached 20 goals for the fifth time in his career.
Blake almost had a hat trick goal on his stick not too long after but was a tad too casual with his deke, allowing Fleury to make a diving glove grab.
"Holy," Blake said nearly a half an hour later. "It was a great save, that's all I can say. I thought I had a wide open net and he made a great save on it."
That would be the last bit of misfortune for the Leafs, who would quickly pour three more in.
Pittsburgh players overskated the puck in their own end, allowing Kulemin to find Mitchell in the slot for his first goal in 17 games.
Ponikarovsky's goal at 13:18 was the summation of a terrific team passing play, while Stajan scored over two minutes later on a slapshot.
In between, Toskala denied NHL leading scorer Evgeni Malkin, who finished with just an assist.
Fleury stopped 35 shots on the night for the Pens, who are just 1-7-1 in their last nine road games.
After losing the first meeting with Pittsburgh this season, Toronto won the last three by a combined margin of 16-9.
The Maple Leafs play the second of a four-game homestand on Tuesday against Buffalo.