TORONTO - James Reimer got pulled, then the Maple Leafs got even.
In the end, though, it was the Detroit Red Wings who won this preview of the Winter Classic by beating Toronto 5-4 in a shootout Saturday night at Air Canada Centre. It was the Leafs' sixth loss in their past eight games.
The Leafs (18-16-4) dropped to 5-3 in shootouts. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier made 25 saves during regulation and overtime in relief of Reimer, who gave up three goals on 12 shots in the first period before getting the hook.
Much-maligned winger David Clarkson scored the go-ahead goal in the third period for the Leafs, who erased a 3-1 deficit to get to that point with goals from Dion Phaneuf and Joffrey Lupul. Cody Franson also scored for Toronto.
The Red Wings built their lead with three goals in 10 minutes during the first period, scored by Pavel Datsyuk, Joakim Andersson and Tomas Jurco. Tomas Tatar tied it in the third period to force overtime.
Former Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson gave up four goals on 23 shots but stopped James van Riemsdyk, Lupul and Mason Raymond in the shootout. It was Gustavsson's third straight start as his work load has increased with starter Jimmy Howard injured.
Datsyuk also scored in the shootout for Detroit, which won its second in a row.
Even though the Leafs didn't have many of the makings of a strong start, they got the game's first goal 7:15 in thanks to Franson, who beat Gustavsson through traffic. The goal, Franson's second of the season, was unassisted on the score sheet but a turnover from Red Wings defenceman Brendan Smith paved the way.
The lead was short-lived as it evaporated less than two minutes later. Datsyuk took advantage of ice time against Toronto's fourth line and third defensive pair by taking a pass from Riley Sheahan and beating Reimer high glove-side with a back-hander at 8:57.
That was just the beginning of the Leafs' first-period meltdown. At 13:18, Andersson beat Lupul around the net and banked a wrap-around attempt off Reimer's stick and into the net to give Detroit a 2-1 lead.
When Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner blew a tire in his own zone late in the period, it helped get Jurco plenty of space to make it 3-1. Sheahan got the puck to Jurco, who scored on a spin-o-rama shot that snuck through Reimer's pads at 18:08.
Toronto had a chance to get one back on the power play in the final minute of the period, but the puck bounced over Phil Kessel's stick on the best opportunity. The crowd of 19,508 yelled at Phaneuf to shoot with the clock ticking away, and some boos followed when he never got it on net in time.
As Carlyle was walking toward the tunnel at intermission, he tapped Bernier and told him he was going into the game. Reimer spent the rest of the game on the bench while the Leafs mounted a comeback.
Phaneuf got it started 12:45 into the second. Lupul found the captain with plenty of space, and Phaneuf beat Gustavsson with a howitzer of a one-timer to cut the deficit to 3-2.
Lupul tied the score on the power play at 18:24 of the second, going short-side on Gustavsson and fitting the puck into a tiny gap between the "Monster" and the post.
Clarkson gave the Leafs the lead 8:30 into the third by jamming at the puck in the crease for his third goal of the season and 100th of his NHL career. It was some measure of redemption for Clarkson, who struggled defensively against Detroit and had been criticized for his lack of production after signing a US$37.5-million, seven-year contract in the off-season.
Bernier made a pad save on a short-handed breakaway by Datsyuk not too long after, but he couldn't stop Tatar at the 13:44 mark.
When John-Michael Liles couldn't get the puck out when rimming it around, Niklas Kronwall beat Kessel to it and sent it on net. Tatar, who had forechecked against Liles, was there waiting to put in the rebound.
NOTES — The Red Wings were playing without the injured Howard (knee), captain Henrik Zetterberg (back), centre Stephen Weiss (sports hernia) and forwards Gustav Nyquist (groin), Johan Franzen (concussion) and Justin Abdelkader (concussion). They got defenceman Danny DeKeyser back after missing 15 games with a shoulder injury. ... Defencemen Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger and forward Frazer McLaren were healthy scratches for the Leafs for the second straight game.
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