Leafs climb out of NHL's basement
The Toronto Maple Leafs are no longer the basement-dwellers of the NHL.
That dubious title now belongs to the Carolina Hurricanes, as the visiting Maple Leafs overcame a two-goal deficit to defeat the 'Canes 3-2 on Friday in a battle between the two worst teams in the NHL.
Jason Blake scored the game winner on the power play at 11:36 of the third, firing a shot off the post and in past goalie Cam Ward for his second of the season, ending an eight-game goal drought.
"It was a relief," Blake said.
Toronto (2-7-5) and Carolina (2-10-3) were tied with an NHL-low seven points heading into Friday's contest. With the win, Toronto now sits 29th overall.
The Leafs were aided by some strong goaltending in the third period by Jonas Gustavsson.
The Swedish netminder struggled to find his game in the first half of the contest but came up with some big stops in the final frame as the 'Canes outshot Toronto 18-8 in the third, including a frantic final minute that saw the Leafs down two men.
"We're starting to move in the right direction," Blake said. "Tonight was a good effort. Obviously, Gustavsson made some key saves at key times that were game-changers. It was a good team effort."
The 25-year-old Gustavsson stopped 34 shots in total, while Ward turned away 23 of 26.
Leafs battle back
Brandon Sutter and Sergei Samsonov scored two first-period goals for Carolina, and the Leafs responded with goals from John Mitchell and Nikolai Kulemin in the second.
"Whenever they scored, we seemed to sag at that point, maybe feeling sorry for ourselves," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. "We have to get mad at some point. I said to the team, 'We've only got one win in 13 games. When's somebody going to get mad?'"
Toronto notched only its second win of the season and broke a four-game losing streak, although it has earned at least a point in the past six games. The Hurricanes also have two wins for the season but are mired in an 11-game losing streak.
"There are no options," Canes coach Paul Maurice said. "You just have to persevere in these times."
The Hurricanes were missing two key cogs in their offence, since Eric Staal and Ray Whitney are both sidelined by upper-body injuries.
"Obviously frustrating when you're not winning," Sutter said. "We played well, so we have to look at the positives."
Sutter opened the scoring at 7:51 of the first, thanks to some deft footwork from Rod Brind'Amour. The Hurricanes captain redirected a Joe Corvo point shot to the front of the Leaf net, and Sutter slid the puck by Gustavsson for his third of the season.
The Leafs have given up the first goal in 13 of their 14 games this season.
The Hurricanes made it 2-0 when Samsonov capitalized on a monster rebound from Gustavsson at 17:22.
Mitchell cuts into lead
Mitchell, who hit the post in the first, finally hit the mark at 1:12 of the second to cut into the Carolina lead. The 24-year-old one-timed a Tomas Kaberle pass through traffic to score his first of the season.
Kulemin tied the game at 7:23, when he fired home a centring pass from Alexei Ponikarovsky for his third of the year.
"To be down 2-0 and the way that's gone for us this year, I think that showed a lot of determination," Wilson said. "I'm proud of the guys that they didn't give up."
The Leafs come home Saturday to take on the injury-riddled Detroit Red Wings in the Hall of Fame Game on Hockey Night in Canada (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET).
Former NHL stars Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and Luc Robitaille, along with New Jersey Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, make up the class of 2009 and will be officially inducted on Monday.
With files from The Associated Press