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CuJo shines in wacky win for Leafs

by John Kreiser
Curtis Joseph has 453 career victories. It's safe to say he's never had one like this.

Joseph came into Tuesday night's game against Washington cold after Toronto goaltender Martin Gerber was ejected with 56 seconds left in regulation. All he did was send the game into overtime by robbing Alex Ovechkin with 15 seconds left in regulation, then stop all eight shots he faced in OT and three more in the shootout to give the Maple Leafs a 3-2 victory over the Capitals.

After Jeff Hamilton scored against Jose Theodore on the first attempt in the shootout, Joseph stopped Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Ovechkin. The game-clinching stop on A.O. triggered an eruption from the sellout crowd of 19,362 the Air Canada Centre.

At age 41, there's not much that Joseph hasn't seen -- so neither the strange scenario nor facing Ovechkin fazed him.

"I've played long enough," Joseph said. "Ovechkin is definitely the greatest player in the game right now, I would agree with that. But I've played against the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux and guys like that. Hopefully that experience helped."

It looked like the Leafs would win in regulation when Pavel Kubina scored a power-play goal with 2:08 remaining. But the Caps pulled Theodore in the final 90 seconds, and Brooks Orpik jammed the puck -- and Gerber -- into the net during a pileup.

The Leafs goalie quickly got up and raced towards referee Mike Leggo, bumping him lightly before shooting the puck in his direction -- earning a game misconduct and, likely, a suspension.

"I'm sorry for me, for losing my cool there," Gerber said. "I got shoved in the net. That's why (the puck) went in. I was upset, shot the puck against the boards and after that he tossed me out for I don't know what. I shouldn't have done it. That's obvious. But there's not much you can do now."

Joseph then stopped everything he faced, helping the Leafs keep their flickering playoff hopes alive.

"I'm pretty impressed," Theodore said of Joseph's performance. "I've got to tell you that you guys don't know how hard it is just to step in when you're not playing and then in the last minute, when it's a tie game like that."

The players chanted Joseph's name as he entered the dressing room following the game. The Leafs are an impressive 10-4-1 in their last 15 games and have 75 points, eight behind eighth-place Montreal with nine games remaining.

"I'm never amazed in this game, but you can use that word if you like it," Joseph said. "Certainly there's a lot of fresh faces that are wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, which is exciting too -- to look down the bench and see the big grins. It's good, it's fun. I'm enjoying that."

The single point lifted the Caps into a tie with New Jersey for second place in the Eastern Conference with 97, five behind the Boston Bruins, though Washington has played two more games.

In contrast to the wild finish, the first two periods were quiet. Neither team scored in the first period, and Toronto rookie Phil Oreskovic got his first NHL goal at 9:04 of the second when his shot caromed off a Washington defender and past Theodore.

Ovechkin tied it with his League-leading 51st of the season, breaking down the right wing before deking Gerber and scoring on a backhander with 21 seconds left in the period. It was his 12th goal in 13 career games against Toronto.

Criticized recently for his goal-scoring celebrations, Ovechkin simply kissed his glove and pointed to the sky after his goal. He was in no mood to discuss his post-goal routines after the game.

"I think it's enough," he said. "It's enough talking about it. It's history and if you want to talk about it, just go somewhere and talk with some guys."

Canadiens 6, Thrashers 3
| Video

This was the kind of performance Montreal fans have been waiting for. Alex Tanguay scored twice and set up three more goals as the Canadiens pummeled Atlanta to take a two-point lead over Florida in the race for the last playoff spot in the East.

The newly formed line of Tanguay, Alex Kovalev (2 goals, 1 assist) and Saku Koivu (1 goal, 2 assists) produced 5 goals and 11 points as the Canadiens ended a five-game losing streak and improved to 2-3-2 since GM Bob Gainey took over behind the bench after firing Guy Carbonneau.

"We were desperate," Tanguay said after the third five-point game of his career and the first since 2004 against Vancouver. "We didn't have time to wait a couple of games for it to click. We need to win now."

Gainey has been juggling his lineup to find combinations that work. For one night, at least, he found one.

"Koivu's line certainly performed in the role we put them in," he said. "They were a good working trio of players. We need that offensive threat on the power play. They played like they wanted to play with each other."

Carey Price made 23 stops -- the biggest when he gloved a second-period rocket by Ilya Kovalchuk on a 2-on-1 break with the Canadiens leading only 3-2. Kovalchuk had scored earlier in the period to tie the game at 2-2.

Kovalev broke that tie at 8:37 of the second period, beating Kari Lehtonen with a power-play backhander from the slot. Tanguay and Kovalev broke the game open when they scored during a double minor assessed to Atlanta's Bryan Little, who was called for hooking and then tagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct call.

Koivu padded the lead by scoring 23 seconds into the third period before Atlanta rookie Zach Bogosian beat Price at 8:13.

Gainey said better defensive play helped limit Atlanta to 25 shots, the fewest Montreal has allowed in 21 games since Feb. 6 against Buffalo. It was only the fifth time in that span the opposing team had fewer than 30 shots.

"The focus was to play a good strong game based on positional play," he said. "In the last two periods, we were difficult to pass through. We took plays away from them before they entered the zone, so we had about 15 shots less."

Lightning 2, Blue Jackets 1 (OT) | Video

With a 4-16 record in games that were tied after regulation, things didn't look optimistic for the Lightning when they went to overtime with Columbus tied at 1-1. But Martin St. Louis' goal 3:04 into overtime gave Tampa Bay a victory on a night when it was outshot 34-17 and managed only seven shots through 40 minutes.

Jan Hejda's goal 4:21 into the third period broke a scoreless tie, and for a long time it looked like that might be enough for rookie goaltender Steve Mason. But Hedja was called for holding the stick at 9:56, and Ryan Malone's tip-in at 10:55 got the Bolts even.

"We had a couple of power plays in the first period and if we got some goals that game would be another story," Hejda said.

St. Louis won it when he took a breakout pass from Steven Stamkos, raced into the Columbus zone and zipped a wrist shot from near the right faceoff dot that caught the top left corner, extending his points streak to nine games, during which he's scored six goals.

"The power play got us going, and obviously Marty (scored) a great goal," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said. "We'll take the win; it's good for the confidence of the guys. But we've got to start generating some offense."

Hejda's shot was the only one to beat rookie Mike McKenna, who made 33 saves -- including nine on Columbus captain Rick Nash.

"He kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win," St. Louis said.

The single point gives Columbus 83, the first time in franchise history the Jackets will finish with more points than games played. They're sixth in the West and moved another game closer to the franchise's first playoff berth after getting three of four points during a two-game swing through Florida.

"We got three points out of four without any of our big guns scoring," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We feel pretty fortunate to get that. Going back to Columbus now, we're going to have to get better production for the work that we're putting in."

The Blue Jackets finished the season with a 13-3-2 mark against the Eastern Conference, including a 5-0-1 record against Southeast Division teams.

"There's no such thing as a bad point right now," Nash said, "not when you're in a playoff race.

Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.


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