Leafs overcome Ovechkin, Capitals
What appeared early on to be another disastrous night at Air Canada Centre was salvaged by the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 6-3 comeback win over the Washington Capitals.
Matt Stajan scored twice and drew an assist in the victory, with linemate Phil Kessel notching a goal and two assists. Niklas Hagman, Lee Stempniak and Alexei Ponikarovsky also scored for Toronto (11-14-7).
Vesa Toskala overcame a rocky start to make several outstanding plays among his 34 saves. He was particularly important in the first, when the Capitals threatened to enjoy a four- or five-goal period.
Stajan scored what held up as the winner by following the bouncing puck and depositing past Washington netminder Michal Neuvirth at the side of the net at 5:03 of the third.
Toskala made some key saves at this point, handling a deflected shot and remaining stout on a scramble.
Stajan then set up Stempniak, who skated in alone with Toronto short-handed and beat the Capitals netminder at 9:44 with a backhand move for a two-goal lead.
The Maple Leafs are 5-7-3 at ACC, winning for the third straight time at the venue. The club moved into a tie for 13th in the Eastern Conference with the struggling Philadelphia Flyers.
Washington led 2-0 just over five minutes into the game. Alexander Ovechkin scored his 21st goal and assisted on both of Nicklas Backstrom's goals.
The Maple Leafs were rewarded for their hard work and also were opportunistic against a Washington goalie playing only his seventh NHL game. Neuvirth, who last played Nov. 20, struggled much of the night and finished with 30 saves.
Ovechkin struck exactly two minutes into the game, one-timing a slapper from Mike Green at the left circle. Green is second behind Toronto's Tomas Kaberle among NHL defencemen with 26 assists.
Toskala stood tall on a 2-on-1 seconds later. The rebound went to Brendan Morrison, but the veteran somehow missed a half-empty net.
Ovechkin was allowed to stickhandle unchallenged on the 2-0 goal at 5:15, with Backstrom sneaking behind Toronto players to take his linemate's pass in the slot.
Semin then got behind Toronto's defence for a breakaway attempt near the eight-minute mark, but Toskala robbed him with a glove save.
The Finnish netminder did again with his glove on an Ovechkin chance on the doorstep about a minute later.
The Leafs only started to test Neuvirth in earnest midway through the period, and with about six minutes left narrowly missed on a short-handed 2-on-1.
Toskala made one final good save to get his team to the intermission with a modest deficit, poke checking Mike Knuble in the final minute.
The Maple Leafs got on the board just 1:29 into the second. Kessel stripped a Washington player of the puck in the Toronto end, skated up the right side and fired a hard shot that led to a rebound goal for Stajan
Toskala then made a save on Semin to help set up a Toronto sequence that led to a Capitals penalty. Kessel connected on the ensuing power play, a snapper from the left circle between Neuvirth's pads at 5:54.
Washington regained the lead just under three minutes later on Toskala's weakest playof the game. The goalie was buried deep in his net to allow Backstrom a short-side goal.
Hagman got that one back at 16:39 with his 15th of the season, wheeling around and firing a shot in the top corner to finish a play set up Mikhail Grabovski's rush.
Toronto was applying more pressure than the Capitals early in the third and were rewarded with the Stajan and Stempniak scores.
With the score 5-3 for the Leafs, Toskala made a blocker save on Semin on a breakaway to help hold the Capitals at bay.
Ponikarovsky ended all doubt by taking a puck in the slot and outwaiting Neuvirth and defenceman Tom Poti with 40 seconds left.
Washington dropped to 20-7-6.
Sophomore defenceman Luke Schenn did not suit up for the Leafs, the first time in his career he's been a healthy scratch.