Maple Leafs too potent for Predators
You know things are going your way when Wade Belak tallies a goal.
Belak scored for the first time in 143 games as the Toronto Maple Leafs skated to a 3-1 victory over the Nashville Predators in front of 19,400 fans at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night.
"I had pretty much given up on scoring," Belak said. "I have been trying to keep them out of our net."
Chad Kilger's shot caromed off sliding Predators defenceman Greg Zanon to Belak, who swept it into the net for his first goal since Dec. 20, 2003.
"It was kind of surreal," Belak said. "It hit the guy and I put it in the back door.
"I just kind of tapped it in. It happened so quick."
Asked if he recalled his previous goal, Belak replied: "God, I don't know when it was. I was under the age of 30, anyways.
"I think [Steve] Stavro was still the owner. We had that lockout, too."
"That was great," Maple Leafs forward Darcy Tucker said. "That is what builds team chemistry.
"The guys are thrilled for him. I haven't seen our bench that ecstatic in a long time."
Belak, a seldom-used enforcer with eight goals in 407 NHL games, was equally enthused about being named the third star behind Maple Leafs goaltender Vesa Toskala and captain Mats Sundin.
"It is always nice when they recognize you like that," he said. "It was appreciated.
"I really enjoyed that. What do we get for it?
"It is Molson, right? Case of beer, maybe."
Nik Antropov and Matt Stajan had the other goals for the Maple Leafs (11-11-6), winners of three straight games.
Tomas Kaberle provided two assists in support of Toskala, who sparkled with 34 saves.
"When you get the ice time, you start to feel comfortable," Toskala said.
"He stole the show," said Predators captain Jason Arnott, who fired 12 shots at Toskala.
Shea Weber spoiled Toskala's shutout bid with 5:55 remaining.
"We played against him in the playoffs when he was in San Jose and he is a good goalie," Weber said. "He has proven that."
Mason managed only 12 stops in a losing cause for the Predators (13-10-2).
"We were on the wrong end of the bounces," Arnott said.
Toronto opened the scoring 28 seconds into the contest as Hal Gill's point shot banked off the stick of rearguard Dan Hamhuis to a circling Antropov, who potted his 11th.
"They fed off the crowd early and came out flying in the first," Weber said.
The Maple Leafs went ahead 2-0 on Stajan's sixth just 94 seconds into the second period, and Belak upped it to 3-0 at 2:48 of the third.
"As a team, we are playing a lot better defensively," Tucker said. "I know Vesa played unbelievable in the third period, when we didn't forecheck as well as we probably should have.
"But on the whole, we have played better as a team. Sometimes, it takes a little bit of adversity to understand what it takes to win in this league."
Toronto is 6-2-1 lifetime versus Nashville, including three of the last four meetings at the ACC.
With files from the Canadian Press