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Leafs remain hot on home ice, edge Sens

Tuesday, 12.15.2009 / 12:47 AM / Roundup

By Brian Hunter - Staff Writer

It's been a complete 180 for Vesa Toskala and the Toronto Maple Leafs – particularly when it comes to their play at the Air Canada Centre.

Toskala stopped 22 shots in leading the Maple Leafs to their fourth straight win on home ice, 3-2 over the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

With the two points, Toronto, which lost 12 of 13 to start the season, moved into a five-way tie for 10th in the Eastern Conference, just two points behind Montreal and Florida, which are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot.

"There were a couple odd-man rushes in the second, but other than that it was a pretty easy game for me," Toskala said. "Only a couple saves in the third. I think the boys played well."

Defenseman Francois Beauchemin scored the game-winning goal 6:02 into the third for the Leafs, who also saw Jason Blake and Phil Kessel score. Toskala made a key stop in the early-going on a Milan Michalek partial breakaway.

"Vesa has done a great job recently and before Vesa, Jonas (Gustavsson) was making some big saves," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. "It's huge when you start to trust your goaltender, other things start to fall into place, you get more offensive opportunities. The defensemen aren't worried about making mistakes and, thereby, don't make as many, generally."

Mike Fisher and Jason Spezza scored goals for the Senators, who got 21 saves from Brian Elliott in his 12th consecutive start. It looked like they might have forced overtime when Jesse Winchester got the puck past Toskala in the last half minute, but the goal was called off immediately and video replay confirmed the call that Winchester kicked the puck in.

"The referee called it right away, so I thought he (kicked) it, but those plays are always nervous (until it's official)," Beauchemin said.

It was Beauchemin who was eventually credited with the decisive goal on a point shot that got past Elliott. The goal was originally awarded to Mikhail Grabovski, but changed.

"I thought it hit Grabo, but when we got together for the celebration he said he never touched it," Beauchemin said.

Blake's opened the scoring 2:15 into the second period before Fisher answered at the 13:07 mark. Kessel put the Leafs back in front 59 seconds later, taking a precision pass from Alexei Ponikarovsky and racing in to snap a shot just inside the post, short-side past Elliott's glove.

"That's another difference from the first month or so, the fact we have a difference-maker, a pure sniper," Wilson said of Kessel, who missed the first month recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. "We have a really hard-working group that some nights might not finish and Phil, if he gets an opportunity like that, more often than not will and it makes the rest of the guys on the team confident."

Spezza's third goal in five games and fifth of the season came on an Ottawa power play 1:12 into the third and tied the score once again, setting up Beauchemin's heroics.

Predators 5, Blue Jackets 3

Steve Sullivan has been haunting Columbus for years now, and he kept that up Monday when Nashville paid a visit to Nationwide Arena.

Sullivan recorded the hat trick and the Predators improved to 8-2-2 in their previous 12 road games against the Blue Jackets. They've also won 13 straight in Nashville.

"I think we always try to bring one of our better games against this team," said goalie Dan Ellis, who made 28 saves for Nashville. "We have developed a little bit of a rivalry over the past few years. They're always intense games."

Patric Hornqvist and Ryan Jones also scored for the Predators, but Sullivan was the big story. He now has 16 goals and 43 points in just 39 career games against the Jackets.

"Games like that are just lucky breaks, lucky shots go in when you don't expect them," he said. "Our line of late has been playing very well. Martin Erat with a recent hat trick, Jason Arnott with goals quite a bit lately. We've been clicking."

Antoine Vermette and Jakub Voracek scored power-play goals for Columbus. R.J. Umberger also lit the lamp, but the Jackets still lost for the 11th time in 13 games.

"It's hard when you go through things like this," said Umberger, who also had an assist. "Every loose puck, every turnover, every battle you don't win ends up in your net."

Hornqvist and Sullivan scored 25 seconds apart in the middle period to give the Predators a 3-1 lead. After a defensive turnover, David Legwand set up Hornqvist, who waited patiently until a sliding defender got out of his way before drilling a shot past Jackets goalie Steve Mason. Sullivan then converted the rebound of an Erat shot.

"We got a lot of contributions from all lines," Jones said. "Sully got three tonight, which is a big night. Any time a guy can put in three it's going to give you a chance to win."

Voracek answered on the man advantage at 11:09 but Sullivan completed his three-goal performance by one-timing a Francis Bouillon feed from the high slot with 3:52 left in the period. Moments later, a Predators fan tossed a lone hat onto the ice.

Jones stretched the lead to three in the third before Umberger's late goal capped the scoring.

"We were slow with the puck and it's been like that for a while," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We made a lot of puck errors in our own end. Today was a microcosm of the season, to be honest with you. We create enough chances to score every night (but) it doesn't matter unless you are good from the red line back."

Red Wings 3, Coyotes 2 | HIGHLIGHTS

Even when Detroit wins, it still manages to lose – at least in terms of healthy players.

Kris Newbury, Patrick Eaves and Derek Meech scored as the Red Wings managed enough offense to beat Phoenix and red-hot goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. However, they saw defenseman Jonathan Ericsson leave late in the first period with a knee injury suffered on a hit by Coyotes captain Shane Doan.

"He'll have it checked out in the morning," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "We'll see what happens. But it didn't look good on TV."

Injuries have already sidelined forwards Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Jason Williams, Dan Cleary and Darren Helm, as well as defenseman Niklas Kronwall.

But the Red Wings haven't used that as an excuse and Newbury, the latest addition to their lineup, scored on his second NHL shift when he tipped a Kris Draper pass by Bryzgalov at 5:25 of the first period to start the scoring.

"Just trying to get my feet moving and drove the middle," said Newbury who played his fifth game in six nights after being called up from Grand Rapids of the AHL. "And the puck was right there."

Taylor Pyatt and Radim Vrbata had the Phoenix goals. Bryzgalov stopped 29 shots, as the Coyotes lost for only the second time in eight games.

"For whatever reason, you have those games where you don't play your best," coach Dave Tippett said. "You're just not sharp and this was one of those."

Eaves followed Newbury's goal with a shorthanded tally 10:37 into the first, his third goal of the season.

"I was going down the side and I like that shot, and I was able to use their D-man's stick as kind of a screen and pull it by it," he said.

Ericsson's injury helped lead to Pyatt's goal with 4:52 left in the first, as he lay in the left corner of the Detroit zone clutching his knee after Doan's hit forced a turnover. The Coyotes kept possession and play was allowed to continue, with Pyatt eventually scoring off a rebound.

"He came around the net and I just tried to finish my check," Doan said. "It's happened to us. I don't really like it but when somebody gets hurt, they don't blow the whistle until a change of possession."

Meech restored the Wings' two-goal lead 2:05 into the second with his first point of the season, a harmless-looking shot from just inside the blue line that eluded Bryzgalov. It held up as the game-winner after Vrbata's goal in the final minute of the period.

"If we don't have secondary scoring, we're not going to win," Babcock said. "Most of our primary scoring is out."

Panthers 7, Islanders 1 | HIGHLIGHTS

Nathan Horton scored in just about every way possible Monday night.

Horton recorded the hat trick and Florida used a four-goal third period to blow open what had been a close game at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

In recording his second career three-goal game, Horton scored an even-strength goal early in the second period, a shorthanded tally about 10 minutes later that held up as the game-winner and a power-play marker as part of the Panthers' late outburst.

"He's not a shoot-first guy, which is rare for a guy with his skill," Florida coach Peter DeBoer said. "We're constantly on him to shoot more. But it's not a bad attribute to be an unselfish player. He's one of the few players that has that wow factor and can bring people out of their seats."

Horton also assisted on a goal by Stephen Weiss. The other Panthers goals came from Michal Repik, Kamil Kreps and Radek Dvorak.

"I should probably shoot some more," Horton said. "I'm just trying to do what I can. We needed a win tonight to make it an OK road trip."

Florida finished its road trip at 2-1-1 and won for just the third time in 13 games. Tomas Vokoun made 30 saves and improved to 11-4-0 career against the Islanders.

"Our guys made terrific moves and great shots," Vokoun said. "We've had trouble scoring on breakaways (but) today guys made great moves and put the puck right underneath the bar and there wasn't much chance for the goalies."

Jesse Joensuu had the lone goal for the Islanders, pulling them to within 2-1 at 4:17 of the second, just 84 seconds after Horton's first goal. But after Panthers defenseman Bryan Allen was sent off for cross-checking, the first penalty in the game, Horton beat Dwayne Roloson on a shorthanded breakaway at 12:40 for a 3-1 lead.

"There wasn't anything that went our way and we didn't do anything to help matters," Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. "Every loose puck, we lost."

The third period got away from the Islanders quickly, as Weiss and Kreps scored in the opening minute to chase Roloson. Dvorak and Horton added power-play goals against Martin Biron.

"I think at 7-1, it's tough to just turn the page," Islanders defenseman Mark Streit said. "Every player needs to do some soul searching and go home and think about what happened.

"We have a pretty good team if everyone is on the same page. If we try to do it on our own, it's not going to work," he said.

Material from wire services was used in this report.

Quote of the Day

He's been one of our top players all year. Tonight he was by far our best player. There wasn't anybody in the same universe as him.

— Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz on goalie Braden Holtby, who made 33 saves to shut out the Edmonton Oilers 1-0
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