|Alexei Ponikarovsky netted a pair of goals in the third period as the Toronto Maple Leafs blanked the Atlanta Thrashers 4-0 for their sixth win in their last seven games.
The Leafs opened a seven-game trip that will keep them away from Air Canada Centre until Dec. 29 with a 4-0 victory over the Thrashers on Friday night. Vesa Toskala stopped 24 shots and Alexei Ponikarovsky scored twice in the third period as the Leafs won for the sixth time in seven games — a streak that began with a 4-2 victory at Philips Arena on Nov. 29.
"It was important to get this road trip started the right way," Toskala said after his second shutout of the season and eighth of his career. "I'm seeing the puck well. Overall, I'm really comfortable. I'm having fun. That's the key.”
Toskala has not allowed more than two goals in any game during the surge, making it difficult for Toronto coach Paul Maurice to give his opening-night goalie, Andrew Raycroft, a start.
"Toskala is playing very, very well," Maurice said.
Toskala’s best save came when he denied Ilya Kovalchuk, the NHL leader with 24 goals, on a second-period breakaway ( 700K ).
"He came so fast," Toskala said. "I was expecting it. He came with a lot of speed.”
The Leafs broke a scoreless tie at 7:13 of the second period thanks to a mistake by Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen. On a dump in, Lehtonen came out to the left corner and tried to wrap the puck around the boards. But he flubbed the attempt, and Boyd Devereaux picked up the puck and wrapped it into the open net ( 700K ).
Toronto captain Mats Sundin made it 2-0 at 10:37 when he fired Nik Antropov’s pass behind Lehtonen ( 700K ).
“We gave away two goals," Atlanta defenseman Ken Klee said after the Thrashers’ third straight loss and league-high sixth shutout loss. "We gave away one on our power play and then the bank one at Kari. A couple of bad bounces like that when you are struggling is enough."
Ponikarovsky beat Lehtonen with a long shot at 16:41 ( 700K ) of the third period and scored again with 59 seconds remaining ( 700K as the Maple Leafs began the long road trip with their third straight road win.
"This was a big game for us," Sundin said. "We have to make sure we maintain and understand it's important to keep doing what we're doing now. I think we're doing a lot of the small things right."
Lehtonen stopped 31 of 35 shots but wasn’t happy with his performance.
"Their goalie played very well," he said. "I made a couple of mistakes that ended up costing the game. It's tough to win when we don't score at all. I'm very disappointed in the way I played."
The Leafs continue their trip Saturday night in Montreal, where they have won twice in as many games this season.
“I think it's important to get this road trip started in the right way,” Toskala said. “We have another tough game tomorrow, and I have to put this behind me and get ready for tomorrow."
Material from wire services and team Web sites was used in this report.