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Connolly Is The OT Hero

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs halted their slide down the standings with a much-needed win over a struggling opponent.

Tim Connolly's second goal of the game 44 seconds into overtime gave the Leafs a 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.

The Leafs centre went to the net and had an empty cage to shoot at when Joffrey Lupul's shot dribbled past Cam Ward. It brought relief to the Air Canada Centre after a game the Leafs were in danger of blowing.

Ward, who made 36 saves, broke his stick on a goal post in frustration after the winning goal.

James Reimer finished with 17 saves for the Maple Leafs (16-11-3). It was his first victory since returning to the lineup following six weeks of concussion-like symptoms.

Alex Ponikarovsky replied for the Hurricanes (9-18-4).

The offence didn't come until the late stages of the third period. Connolly broke a 0-0 tie by tipping home Clarke MacArthur's shot at 15:46 before Ponikarovsky tied it at 18:06 on a power play. Lupul was in the penalty box when the former Leaf converted a cross-crease pass.

It was the sort of game neither struggling team could afford to lose, which was reflected by the tight play. The Leafs carried the play offensively but weren't able to generate many dangerous chances against Ward.

The Hurricanes starter had vowed to be better after getting pulled in two of his last three starts, including Carolina's 4-2 loss in Winnipeg on Friday when he vented on the bench after getting the hook by new coach Kirk Muller.

On this night, he was solid as Toronto outshot the Hurricanes 26-12 through 40 minutes and stood tall during a Leafs power-play chance early in the third period.

At the other end of the ice, Reimer had to endure long stretches of inactivity. One of his best saves came off a Chad LaRose shot on a short-handed rush that he got a shoulder on.

The banged-up Hurricanes have struggled since Muller replaced Paul Maurice as coach on Nov. 28. The team is just 1-5-1 under Muller and faces an uphill struggle to reverse the course with leading scorer Jeff Skinner on the sidelines with an undisclosed injury.

Toronto, meanwhile, faces a tough weekend with a visit to Buffalo on Friday and a home game against the red-hot Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.

Notes: Skinner missed his second straight game for Carolina. The team is expected to update his condition Wednesday ... Leafs tough guy Colton Orr was scratched for a ninth straight game ... Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf played his 500th career NHL game ... Announced attendance was 19.509.

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