Now that Jonas Gustavsson is healthy and getting to start regularly, the Toronto Maple Leafs are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
Gustavsson stopped 34 shots and Jason Blake had a goal and an assist as the Leafs rallied from an early two-goal deficit for a 3-2 win over the struggling Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night at the RBC Center.
Blake beat Cam Ward on a power play with 8:24 remaining for Toronto, which won for only the second time this season but has picked up points in six straight games (2-0-4). Gustavsson, who missed time last month with a knee injury, is 2-0-3 in his last five starts.
"We're starting to move in the right direction," said Blake, whose goal with 8:24 left in regulation broke a 2-2 tie. "Tonight was a good effort. Obviously, Gustavsson made some key saves at key times that were game-changers. It was a good team effort."
John Mitchell and Nikolai Kulemin scored second-period goals for the Leafs to offset a pair of first-period goals by Brandon Sutter and Sergei Samsonov of the Hurricanes.
While it was a confidence-building win for Toronto, Carolina suffered its 11th straight loss (0-8-3) and at 2-10-3 has the NHL's worst record.
"Obviously frustrating when you're not winning," Sutter said. "We played well, so we have to look at the positives."
Sutter, who scored just one goal in 50 games a rookie, notched his third in six games this season to get the Hurricanes off to a solid start. Rod Brind'Amour was able to direct the puck with his skate over to Sutter, who put a backhander past Gustavsson's glove from the slot 7:51 into the game.
Samsonov's second of the season extended the lead to 2-0 with 2:38 left in the period. Andrew Alberts took a shot from the point that Gustavsson stopped, but he couldn't control the rebound and Samsonov was in front to send it home.
"Whenever they scored, we seemed to sag at that point -- maybe feeling sorry for ourselves," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. "We have to get mad at some point. I said to the team, 'We've only got one win in 13 games. When's somebody going to get mad?'"
The emotion started to flow in the second, when Mitchell scored just 72 seconds in to cut the Leafs' deficit in half. Cam Ward was screened by Brind'Amour in front as Mitchell ripped a shot from the blue line that found its way through and past the goalie. Kulemin tied the score at 7:23, tipping Alexei Ponikarovsky's centering pass from the corner behind Ward.
Brind'Amour took a holding penalty with 9:08 left in the third that led to Blake's go-ahead score, a wrister from the slot that caught the right post and ricocheted in past Ward.
"It was a relief," Blake said.
So was the win for Toronto, which got an assist from Phil Kessel in his second game with the team. The Leafs return home to the Air Canada Centre to host Detroit on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Carolina hits the road and plays at Columbus. The Hurricanes still haven't won away from home road this season (0-6-2) -- but right now, that's just one of their problems.
"There are no options," Canes coach Paul Maurice said. "You just have to persevere in these times."
Material from wire services was used in this report