TORONTO - There aren't many better examples than this of the kind of challenge the Pittsburgh Penguins face as they try to climbing back into the playoff picture.
Jason Blake scored goals 19 seconds apart in the third period Saturday as the Toronto Maple Leafs erased a two-goal deficit and hammered the Penguins 6-2.
The Maple Leafs entered the game as one of the NHL's worst teams on home ice and were returning from a miserable road trip. Even still, they provided the desperate Penguins a reminder that there aren't a lot of easy games on the NHL schedule.
Nik Antropov, John Mitchell, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Matt Stajan also scored for Toronto (21-25-10).
Matt Cooke and Bill Thomas replied for the Penguins (27-24-5), who remain five points behind Buffalo for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Maple Leafs peppered Pittsburgh with 41 shots and pulled ahead for good on Blake's 20th and 21st goals of the season. He backhanded a rebound behind Marc-Andre Fleury 55 seconds into the third period before spinning and bringing the puck to his forehand to beat the goalie again at 1:14.
Pittsburgh appeared stunned and was never able to rebound.
It was the Leafs that were reeling early in the game as goalie Vesa Toskala had a rough opening 10 minutes. He was booed heavily after allowing two goals on the first three shots.
To be fair, it wasn't Toskala's fault that Cooke was able to stand alone in front of the net before scoring at 1:23. Defencemen Luke Schenn and Jeff Finger left him largely untouched.
Toskala could definitely be faulted for the short-handed goal Thomas scored at 8:34. The Penguins winger took a nice pass from Jordan Staal and wired a long shot past Toskala's glove.
The game could have gotten pretty ugly at the point, with the home fans sarcastically cheering a couple successive saves and the Leafs trailing 2-0. But Toskala rebounded, stopping good chances by Ryan Whitney and Sidney Crosby during a power play just before the end of the period.
Those saves proved to be particularly important when the Leafs started taking it to their opponents.
Antropov narrowed the score to 2-1 at 12:53 of the second period. Just seconds after a power play expired, the big Leafs forward knocked the puck out of the air and behind Fleury.
The momentum was clearly in Toronto's favour and it would only be a matter of time before the floodgates opened.
Blake gave the Maple Leafs a 3-2 lead with his quick goals before Mitchell extended that advantage at 7:13 after taking a pass in the slot from Nikolai Kulemin. The Air Canada Centre atmosphere was suddenly buoyant - a somewhat surprising development given the three deflating losses the Leafs had suffered during their recent four-game win streak.
Ponikarovsky and Stajan added goals to make it a five-goal third period for Toronto. Interestingly, Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien left Fleury in for all of them.
Even with defenceman Sergei Gonchar in the lineup for the first time all season, the Penguins saw their margin for error down the stretch reduced.
The defending Eastern Conference champions have to finish 16-9 just to reach 91 points - and that total hasn't been good enough to qualify for the playoffs any year since the lockout.
Notes: Malkin has 28 points (7-21) in 12 career games against the Maple Leafs ... AHL callup Boyd Devereaux was a healthy scratch for Toronto ... Ruslan Fedotenko returned to Pittsburgh's lineup after missing 15 games with a broken right hand ... Announced attendance was 19,365.