April 5, 2006(TORONTO) (CP)
-- Thanks to Darcy Tucker, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Garth Snow, the Toronto Maple Leafs' slim chances of making the NHL playoffs remain alive.
|J.S. Aubin picked up another victory. |
(Graig Abel Photography)
Tucker ended a 16-game scoring drought with two goals and Ponikarovsky broke a tie with the winning goal with 2:02 remaining in a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders that moved Toronto within six points of idle Tampa Bay and the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot Wednesday night.
"We're going to keep fighting and give it our best shot,'' said Tucker.
Toronto has earned nine of a possible 10 points in its last five games. Goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin has had a hot hand and the Leafs will continue to go with him for their seven remaining games.
But Aubin didn't steal this one, and the Leafs didn't deserve to win. The Islanders outshot them 29-22 and led twice.
"Things didn't really go our way but we found a way to get the two points,'' captain Mats Sundin admitted.
Coach Pat Quinn sounded as if he expected a loss.
"We didn't seem to have a lot of teamwork going on,'' said Quinn. "We were playing the kind of game we play when we don't win.''
Fortunately for the Leafs, Snow flopped to his knees on nearly every shot and let pucks squirt through his legs. A fifth straight Islanders loss mathematically eliminated them.
"For the first two periods, we played a great road game,'' said Snow. "A couple of unfortunate bounces wound up in (our net). It's a tough position to be in.''
Nik Antopov took the shot that led to the winning goal. Snow got a piece of the puck as he dropped to his knees, but it got behind him and stopped in the crease. Ponikarovsky outmuscled defenceman Denis Greveshkov in reaching in to shoot it over the line for his 20th goal of the season. Ponikarovsky's previous best was nine goals in 2003-2004.
"There's no doubt it's a breakout season for him,'' said Sundin. "He's a big strong forward who should be able to score goals and he's shown this year he can do that.''
Alexei Yashin and Miro Satan scored power-play goals for the Islanders.
Tucker hadn't scored since Feb. 28. He now has a career-best 26 goals, including 17 on power plays.
"Even though he hadn't scored in a while, he's been playing gritty and working hard,'' said Sundin.
Tucker was still hepped-up about derogatory comments made about him by Buffalo forward Daniel Briere. On Monday, a Tucker hit on Jochen Hecht during a 3-2 shootout loss to the Sabres resulted in Hecht hurting his left knee seriously enough to keep him out of Buffalo's lineup for the next two weeks.
"It's coming from a guy with six playoff games (in his career),'' Tucker said of Briere. "I don't really need to say anything more.
"I don't think he's ever won anything in his life.''
The hockey was so lacklustre during the scoreless first period that some observers recalled the lockout with fondness. It was 1-1 after 40 minutes.
The Leafs' effort was so wanting in the second period that they allowed the Islanders to outshoot them 17-6. That included a full two-minute stretch of a two-man advantage that yielded only three shots on Snow.
"For the most part, we outworked Toronto,'' said interim Islanders coach Brad Shaw. "I thought they were a little sleepy for most of the night.
"They ramped it up a few times and Tucker came to play.'
Notes: The Islanders were 2-for-7 and the Leafs 1-for-6 on power plays . . . Ed Belfour, who hasn't stopped a puck since March 10, had back surgery Wednesday in Los Angeles to repair a herniated disc . . . Aubin made his fifth straight start . . . Snow got just his second start since March 6 . . . Announced attendance was 19,397 but there were dozens of unoccupied big-buck seats in Air Canada Centre's lower bowl . . . The Leafs play in Boston on Thursday (Rogers Sportsnet, 7 p.m. ET) and in Philadelphia on Saturday (CBC, 7 p.m. ET).