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With freshly retired fan favourite Curtis Joseph in attendance at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night, it was fitting that Toronto Maple Leafs fans saw a vintage goaltending performance.

Unfortunately, it came from the visiting end of the ice.

Carolina goalie Cam Ward stole one for his last-place Hurricanes, stopping 38 shots on the way to a 4-2 win over the second-last place Leafs.

"It's just a matter of coming to the rink and competing," Ward said. "It's finally time that we found ways to win. Even though the game wasn't exactly the greatest game, we found ways to battle through it at key times in the game."

Toronto had the run of play for most of the game, but it was Carolina's Patrick Dwyer who scored the winner with less than five minutes to go in the contest on the Hurricanes' fifth shot of the third period.

He deftly tipped in a Rod Brind'Amour point shot moments after the Leafs hit the crossbar at the other end, and Ray Whitney added an empty-netter in the final minute of play.

Ward stymied the Leafs throughout the game as Toronto outshot Carolina 40-18, and especially vexed Phil Kessel, who had several chances to break the 2-2 deadlock in the third but was turned away every time.

"I don't have much to say," Kessel said. "We're not playing good enough. It's a number of things. We've got to be better."

The Leaf forward has only one goal in his last 13 games.

"He wants to score more than anybody," Wilson said. "That's a special art he has. When you're not doing it, you internalize it and beat yourself up."

Carolina (14-24-7), in last place in the East, is inching closer to 14th-place Toronto. The 'Canes are four points behind with two games in hand, and Carolina has its first three-game winning streak of the season while the Leafs (15-23-9) are in a freefall, having lost nine of their last 11 games.

Not so special

The other factor that did the Leafs in Tuesday was special teams play. Toronto's league-worst penalty kill surrendered the opening goal of the contest, and has now given up at least one power play goal in nine straight games.

Even worse, the Leafs had a chance to tie it at 3-3 when the team was awarded a final power play with three minutes left, but couldn't even set up in the Carolina zone let alone muster a shot. Toronto went 0-for-3 on the power play during the game.

Ray Whitney added an empty-netter for Carolina in the final minute of play.

Eric Staal and Brandon Sutter scored Carolina's other goals, while Lee Stempniak and Nikolai Kulemin lit the red lamp for Toronto.

Joni Pitkanen picked up three assists for the Hurricanes. Teammate Jussi Jokinen added two helpers, and Staal had a two-point night with a goal and an assist.

Jonas Gustavsson's save percentage will take a big dip after Tuesday's loss after allowing three goals on 17 shots.

"[Ward] played good," he said. "For some reason all the goalies play their best games against us."

Toronto's Tyler Bozak, called up from the AHL's Marlies to play his second career NHL game, picked up an assist.

The Leafs surrendered the opener when Staal was left wide open on the left wing and cut in to slide one past Gustavsson at 10:09 of the first.

After Ward turned back several Toronto chances, Stempniak broke through the Carolina netminder's armour at 16:52 of the first, banging home a third rebound chance for his 12th of the season.

Short-lived lead

Kulemin gave the Leafs their first lead 51 seconds into the second period, but the lead lasted only six minutes: Sutter tied the game 2-2 when he scored off a rebound during a 3-on-2 rush.

Toronto honoured Joseph during the first commercial break of the game, and the beloved fan-favourite received a standing ovation from the ACC crowd.

Joseph officially announced his retirement from the NHL earlier Tuesday after 18 seasons, which included a memorable run in the Blue and White's crease from 1999-2002, when Toronto made it to the Eastern Conference finals twice in that span.

Cujo signed on again with Toronto as a backup last season for one last go-around, and the 42-year-old from nearby East Gwillimbury, Ont., retired as a Leaf.

With files from The Canadian Press