|Ed Belfour stopped 33 shots during his
victory. (Graig Abel Photography)
February 7, 2006
TORONTO (CP) -- The game was still tied 0-0 and the Toronto Maple Leafs had just given up a short-handed two-on-none breakaway, but Kyle Wellwood knew everything was going to be all right.
That's the kind of confidence good goaltending can give a team.
Ed Belfour made 33 saves, two of which came on a short-handed breakaway in the first period, to help the Maple Leafs beat the Atlanta Thrashers 4-1 on Tuesday night.
"When he stopped those shots on the breakaway, we knew he was on his game," said Wellwood, who scored an insurance goal in the third period. "All we had to do after that is play hard and score a goal or two to win.''
Alexei Ponikarovsky, Darcy Tucker and Bryan McCabe scored for the Maple Leafs (27-23-5), who are eighth in the Eastern Conference and five points ahead of the Thrashers.
Marian Hossa replied for Atlanta (24-26-6).
The 19,427 in attendance at Air Canada Centre fell silent 13:33 into the first period when McCabe was cross-checked by Serge Aubin and crashed into the end boards.
McCabe, a member of Canada's Olympic team, stayed down for several minutes but returned before the end of the period. Aubin was assessed a five-minute penalty and ejected for hitting from behind.
"I couldn't feel my leg," said McCabe, adding that his right knee is swollen. "Once the numbness wore off after a couple minutes, it was fine.
"I was really worried that it was worse than it was."
The Thrashers, which lost all four meetings against Toronto this season by a combined score of 22-3, didn't see it the same way.
"To see McCabe back on the ice after 30 seconds, we don't need to add more than this," said Atlanta coach Bob Hartley. "The guy played over 27 minutes, so case closed.
It was during Aubin's five-minute penalty that Patrik Stefan and Niclas Havelid had the short-handed breakaway against Belfour.
As good as he was in the first period, the 40-year-old Leafs goalie was even better in the second. He came across his crease to steal a sure goal off the stick of Scott Mellanby early in the period before blocking an in-close slapshot from Marc Savard.
Savard looked to the sky in frustration while the home fans chanted, "Eddie, Eddie, Eddie..."
"Eddie's been huge for us all season," said Leafs forward Alex Steen. "It's all about him. He was the biggest part of this win tonight."
Belfour was heavily criticized during Toronto's recent eight-game losing streak, but has rebounded with back-to-back wins _ Toronto's first since victories on Dec. 31 and Jan. 2.
Leafs coach Pat Quinn hopes the team's struggles are behind them.
"We've run the gamut of emotions over the last little while, that's for sure," the Canadian Olympic coach said. "These were a big two points on the board here tonight.
"We're right in the middle of a dog fight for the last playoff spot."
Ponikarovsky made it 1-0 for Toronto after intercepting a pass by Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk at his own blue-line. The Leafs winger broke in alone on rookie Thrashers goalie Kari Lehotnen and beat him with a nifty deke at 13:25 of the second period.
Tucker made it 2-0 just over three minutes later on a power play after Jason Allison found him wide open in the slot.
It was all the Maple Leafs would need the way Belfour was playing, although Hossa made it 2-1 just 18 seconds into the third period on a power play.
"I thought we were ready to play," said Mellanby, the Thrashers captain. "I think we dominated stretches of the game."
Belfour simply had their number.
Notes: Darryl Sittler was honoured with a video tribute for his NHL record 10-point game, which he accomplished 30 years ago to the day ... Leafs forward Jeff O'Neill was a healthy scratch for the second straight game ... Kronwall had his first NHL point when he assisted on Wellwood's goal ... Savard, one of the NHL's best-kept secrets, has 169 points in 158 games since being traded from Calgary on Nov. 15, 2002 ... Hossa will return to Ottawa for the first time when the Thrashers visit Scotiabank Place on Thursday night.