Victories have been tricky to come by for the Toronto Maple Leafs against Northeast Division opponents and even more difficult against the Boston Bruins.
But the Leafs were good enough for a 2-0 win at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday for their first victory after seven consecutive losses to Boston. The Bruins had beaten Toronto by a combined score of 12-4 in a pair of games earlier this month.
The win improved the Leafs' dismal record against Northeast Division foes to 3-6-3 this season.
Tomas Kaberle and Jason Blake scored goals in the second period and third period, respectively, to provide the offence and rookie goalie Jonas Gustavsson earned his first career NHL shutout.
Gustavsson wasn’t overworked, but solid enough with a 25-save performance to provide the Leafs with their second shutout of the season. The previous shutout came on Dec. 1, when Gustavsson and Joey MacDonald combined to blank the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 at the Bell Centre.
MacDonald received credit for the shutout because that was the game Gustavsson departed after the first period because he experienced a racing heart.
"I felt pretty good," the rookie goalie said. "I can’t say it [his heart] will be good all the time, but it felt fine tonight."
Although he stopped 16 of 17 shots in a relief appearance of Vesa Toskala in Buffalo on Friday, this was his first start since the heart scare in Montreal.
The 25-year-old Gustavsson has experienced his share of medical woes in his first three months as an NHLer. He collapsed after a fitness test on the first day of training camp. It was discovered that he had an electrical problem with his heart. He underwent a heart ablation procedure to correct the condition.
Gustavsson appeared to be on the road to recovery, but then sustained a groin injury. When he bounced back from that ailment, his heart problem materialized again in the excitement of his first game in Montreal. But after a second heart ablation, he now seems back in form.
"He’s worked hard and hasn’t let these medical setbacks get to him," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. "I’m glad we could hang on to get the shutout for him."
Gustavsson’s teammates sure were pleased for the Swede and the determination he has exhibited. That was exemplified after the game when Leafs forward Lee Stempniak went into the crowd to snatch the commemorative game puck for Gustavsson because in the dying seconds of the game a Bruins player flipped the puck over the glass.
Toronto centre Matt Stajan also had an eventful evening. He took an undisciplined slashing penalty on Boston’s Zdeno Chara behind the play early in the third period with the score still 1-0 and then was belted with a bodycheck just outside the Bruins' blue-line a few shifts later.
Boston defenceman Johnny Boychuk delivered the hit that rocked Stajan. He returned to the dressing room briefly for repairs on a cut underneath his left eye that was caused from his face shield. Stajan thought the hit was on the dirty side.
"I was a little dazed," Stajan said. "You guys can make the judgment whether he went for my head or not. I thought he jumped at me and went for my head."
It appeared that Stajan had his head down and was crouched over a bit when Boychuk caught him. There was no penalty called on the Boston player as a result of the hit.
"I thought it was a high hit, but the referees didn’t," Wilson said.
Both teams were sluggish and coming off games on Friday. The Bruins didn’t arrive in Toronto from Chicago until 3 a.m. They were playing their fifth game in 10 nights, while the Leafs were playing their fifth in eight evenings.
After a goal-less opening 20 minutes, the Leafs scored first early in the second period on a soft goal surrendered by Boston backup goalie Tuukka Rask. Yes, that’s the same Rask whom the Leafs gave up in a deal for netminder Andrew Raycroft in 2006.
The 22-year-old Rask has outplayed veteran Tim Thomas this season with a 9-2-2 record, 1.97 goals against average and .932 save percentage. But he looked ordinary when he failed to glove Kaberle’s 39-foot drifter for Toronto’s 1-0 lead.
With the outcome still in doubt, the left-shooting Blake notched his seventh of the season when he cut across the slot to fire a forehand shot that beat Rask on the glove side.
A key for the Leafs, who outshot Boston 31-25, was holding the Bruins' power play in check. The Bruins had scored 14 man-advantage goals in the previous seven games against Toronto.
Boston is without half of its regular blue-line corps. Derek Morris was the latest added to the injury roll, joining Dennis Wideman and Mark Stuart.
The Morris injury provided an opportunity for Charlottetown native Adam McQuaid to play his first NHL game. McQuaid saw just under 10 minutes of ice time.
The Bruins have lost their last four games (0-2-2) and their only two wins in the last seven were the two recent Toronto contests.
Toronto, meanwhile, will get an immediate chance to redeem themselves against Buffalo, hosting the Sabres Monday at the ACC.