TORONTO - Maple Leafs goaltender Vesa Toskala might've had a familiar sinking feeling midway through the first period against the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.
Toronto had spotted the visiting side a 2-0 lead, and the boo birds at Air Canada Centre were starting to warble. Despite being just a handful of games into his career with the blue-and-white, it was a scene that Toskala already knew too well. He had lost three of his first four starts, and had a goals-against average of about four-and-a-half.
But there was different, more refreshing ending this time for the Toronto netminder. The Leafs tied the game up in the second period, and won it on Nikolai Antropov's last-minute marker in the third.
"It was really, really important to get the win," said Toskala, acquired from San Jose along with winger Mark Bell during the summer in exchange for Toronto's first and second round draft picks in 2007 and a fourth-rounder in 2009.
"We've had a couple of tough losses, and it's good to bounce back, especially like this."
The 30-year-old native of Tampere, Finland, played his part in the comeback, including a glove save on Panthers winger Rostislav Olesz early in the second period, shortly after the Leafs had scored to pull within 2-1.
Less than two minutes after Toskala robbed Olesz, Toronto tied the game at 2-2 on a Bryan McCabe power play goal.
"Especially early in the second period, I kind of knew one more goal and it's hard for us to come back," said Toskala, who made 26 saves, improving his record to 2-3-0 and lowering his goals-against average from 4.48 to 3.98. "It's hard to come back from three goals down."
The Leafs were coming off a 5-4 overtime defeat in Buffalo on Monday and a 6-4 loss at home to Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins last Saturday. Toskala played against Pittsburgh; his last start before that was a 7-1 home loss to Carolina, a game that saw the Leafs look slow against the fast-moving Hurricanes.
"The whole team started to play better tonight, in the second half of the game," said Toskala, who stopped 78 of an astounding 90 shots combined against Buffalo and Pittsburgh. "Overall, it was a good team effort."
Toskala also stared down Jay Bouwmeester in the final minute of the third period, as the lanky Panthers defenceman broke in on a partial breakaway. Toskala said he thought he got his stick on Bouwmeester's wrist shot.
"I think I made some good saves," said Toskala, the 90th overall draft pick by San Jose in 1995. "They had some good scoring chances."
When Toskala, who signed a two-year, US$8-million contract extension through 2009-10 in the summer, joined the Leafs, many assumed he would take over the starting role from Andrew Raycroft.
But a pedestrian pre-season by Toskala led to Raycroft getting the opening-night start against Ottawa, and the two goalies have basically split time through eight games - resulting in a muted-crease controversy in Toronto.
Truthfully, neither goalie has stepped up yet to make a legitimate claim at the No. 1 role. Raycroft (1-0-2) was in net for an 8-1 win over the Islanders Oct. 11, but followed that up with the loss in Buffalo.
For his part, Toskala wasn't about to step on any toes.
"I don't want to stir things up," he said when asked if he'd like to receive a series of consecutive starts.
Toskala entered the 2007-08 season with a career NHL record of 65-28-10 and 2.35 goals-against average, including a 26-10-1 mark and 2.35 GAA last season.