Persistent Leafs hold off Penguins
In front of the man who made hard work a staple in Toronto, the persistent Leafs refused to let Doug Gilmour night be spoiled by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Jason Blake scored midway through the third period to lead the Leafs to a 5-4 victory over the Penguins Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre.
Prior to the game, the team paid tribute Gilmour — a longtime fan favourite — by raising his No. 93 to the rafters to the delight of the sold-out crowd.
Gilmour, 45, is the 17th player to have his jersey honoured by the Leafs.
After letting a two-goal slip away, Blake netted the game-winning marker when he moved in from his wing to snap a one-timer by Pittsburgh goaltender Mathieu Garon with 9:55 remaining in the third.
Blake, who has scored nine goals in his last 13 games, added an assist.
Defenceman Pavel Kubina notched a pair of assists, while goaltender Vesa Toskala made 22 saves.
The Leafs (19-23-8) won its second consecutive contest following a three-game losing streak.
The Penguins (24-22-5) continue to flounder, dropping their third game in their last four matches.
Pittsburgh, a Stanley Cup finalist a year ago, remains out of the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference.
Shutdown for the first 40 minutes, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin rallied Pittsburgh in the third with a goal and an assist apiece. Garon finished with 21 saves on 26 Toronto shots.
"Whether it's a team above you or below you, you still have to give yourself a chance to win," Crosby said. "And we didn't give ourselves the best opportunity tonight."
Leafs strike first
After withstanding some early pressure from the Penguins, Toronto struck first with a goal at 5:23 of the opening period.
Defenceman Ian White took a pass from centre John Mitchell and sent a backhand through a crowd that beat Garon to the blocker side.
The Penguins replied quickly, tying the game 3:40 later off a Leaf turnover.
The struggling Miroslav Satan raced to the Toronto end before firing his 14th goal of the season to the short side of Toskala. It was only the Pittsburgh wingers' second goal in his last 20 games.
The Leafs regained their one-goal advantage while on the power play when Nik Antropov converted a rebound over Garon at 7:53 of the second. The goal was Antropov's second in two contests after a 16-game drought.
Toronto continued to outwork the Penguins in the second, leading to a 3-1 lead with 6:21 remaining in the period. Left alone in front of the Pittsburgh net, Alexei Ponikarovsky slid home a shot between Garon's legs just as the Penguins netminder was about to cover up the puck.
Pittsburgh's big guns finally connected to cut Toronto's edge to 3-2 just 55 seconds into the third. Toskala stopped Malkin's shot in the slot, but Crosby was able to backhand the puck behind the Leafs goaltender.
Pittsburgh's momentum was briefly halted when centre Matt Stajan buried a rebound past Garon 1:38 later. The play was created off the alert rush of Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn.
The rookie was also a stalwart along the Leafs blue-line, registering five hits, three blocks shots and a fight with Penguins centre Tyler Kennedy.
"He's definitely got the makings of a leader," said veteran defenceman Mike Van Ryn. "When they say he's a future captain, he definitely is. He asked me the other day if it was OK that he spoke and I think it's good that he does.
"He speaks at the right times and his play has been great."
However, the Penguins answered with two goals in a 1:14 span to pull even. Malkin deflected a point shot by Ray Whitney at 5:33 to make it 4-3.
Kennedy then tied the game more than a minute later after handcuffing Toskala with a long slap shot.
The Leafs thought Kennedy should have been ejected for coming off the bench to fight Schenn in the second period. Toronto GM Brian Burke called the NHL and is expecting the league to review the tape.
"My opinion is that he came off the bench and initiated a fight," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "We'll see what their investigation shows."
But Blake's goal seemed to spark the Leafs, who held off the Penguins in the final 10 minutes.
The news was not all good for Toronto, which learned Saturday it will be without defenceman Thomas Kaberle for the next three to four weeks with a broken right hand.
Kaberle suffered the injury during the Leaf's 7-4 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night in Denver.
With files from the Canadian Press