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Gustavsson stands tall in Leafs' first home win

by Dan Rosen /
TORONTO -- There aren't as many skeptics looking down from the bridges and cliffs in and around the Toronto area anymore. Jonas Gustavsson appears to be saving their beloved Maple Leafs.

Gustavsson brushed aside 35 shots Saturday and Toronto got goals from Wayne Primeau (first as a Leaf), Phil Kessel (first as a Leaf), Jeff Finger (first of the season), John Mitchell and Alexei Ponikarovsky to trounce Detroit, 5-1, in the Hockey Hall of Fame Game at Air Canada Centre.

It was the Leafs' first win at home since April 11 and it gave them their first winning streak since March. Buoyed by their rookie goalie from Sweden, Toronto has points in each of its last seven games (3-0-4) after starting the season 0-7-1.

"Obviously our goaltending, Gustavsson, has been playing unbelievable," Leafs wing Jason Blake told "He's been making a lot of saves, but he's also making those game changing saves. I mean, it's unbelievable. He's been outstanding."

Save for a breakaway goal by Dan Cleary, the 100th of his career, 5:59 into the third period, Gustavsson was flawless to improve to 3-2-3. His two most impressive saves came early in the third while the Leafs were nursing a 3-0 lead and killing penalties.

He slid across the crease from his right to left to make a sparkling stop on Pavel Datsyuk barely 15 seconds into the period. Roughly a minute later, he went left to right across the blue to stone fellow Swede Henrik Zetterberg.

Gustavsson stopped all 13 shots he faced in the first period and another 10 in the second. He turned aside all but one of the Wings' 13 shots in the third to preserve the win.

His goals-against average now stands at 2.60 and his save percentage is up to .918.

"This must be our best game so far," Gustavsson said in the cheery Leafs' locker room. "The D helped me a lot and the forward scored some goals. Perfect."

Leafs GM Brian Burke flew to Sweden on the eve of the opening of NHL free agency period to recruit Gustavsson. He came to Toronto with gaudy numbers from his years in the Swedish Elite League and with a mountain of expectations.

People were saying he was going to be the next Henrik Lundqvist.

Gustavsson, though, appeared in only two of the first eight games due to a groin injury. Since coming back on Oct. 26, the Maple Leafs haven't lost in regulation. He's played in six of the last seven games and the Leafs are 3-0-3.

Their penalty kill, which was the worst in the League in October, is a perfect 16-for-16 over the last four games, including a shootout loss in Montreal on Oct. 31 when Vesa Toskala was in net.

"In a situation where you've made a mistake and the goalie bails people out, there you obviously appreciate it a little more," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. "Then you can take a few chances here and there thinking you'll get a stop at the other end."

The Leafs are helping their goalie out as well. They blocked 18 shots Saturday and forced the Red Wings to miss the net another 21 times because they are getting into the shooting lanes, something they simply weren't doing at the start of the season.

Toronto blocked 23 shots in its 3-2 win over Carolina on Friday.

"Getting in the shooting lanes is a mental play. You know you're going to get hit with the puck," Wilson said. "Look at how many times the Red Wings missed the net in certain situations; it's usually because they are trying to get it around the forwards and the defensemen. Really the guy shooting has no net to shoot at. If he does get it through, it seems that Jonas covers most of the net."

As Gustavsson said, the offense helped him out as well. A big part of that Saturday was Kessel, who scored his first goal as Leaf and also had an assist on Mitchell's goal in the third period.

Mitchell simply redirected Kessel's hard wrist shot from the top of the left circle. Kessel has a goal and two assists in three games since returning from offseason shoulder surgery.

"When you get solid goaltending it certainly helps," Wilson said. "I think that had a big part in the game, the difference in the goaltending on both sides. I think it helps obviously having Phil Kessel in there as well. You just have a different feel."

Toronto jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first period as Primeau scored at 10:34 and Kessel capped the period with a goal exactly nine minutes later. It was only the second time the Leafs have scored first in a game and finished the first period with a lead this season. They were outscored in the first period, 17-5, in their previous 14 games.

Shortly after Finger made it 3-0 just 5:21 into the second period, things got worse for the Red Wings as right wing Jason Williams fell awkwardly behind the net and had to be helped off the ice. He was diagnosed with a fractured right fibula.

Williams told that if he doesn't need surgery he'll likely be out 6-8 weeks, but he has to consult with the doctors when he gets back to Detroit before a timetable is given. Surgery might be necessary.

He fell backwards with his right leg apparently caught underneath him. He couldn't even put his right skate on the ice as he was helped off.

"I knew it right away," Williams said.

Detroit is already playing with wing Johan Franzen (torn ACL), center Valtteri Filppula (broken right wrist) and defenseman Andreas Lilja (post-concussion symptoms). Patrick Eaves also missed Saturday's game with a bruised foot he injured blocking a shot in Thursday's 2-1 shootout win over San Jose.

"Losing Willy was a blow to us," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "He was playing way more minutes than we expected. There is no sense worrying about the guys who aren't available. We have to dig in."

The Leafs are doing just that with a hot goalie behind them.

Yeah, Leafs Nation can get used to that.

"Everybody wants to be successful and want the fans to be happy," Gustavsson said. "If we can continue like this it's going to be a fun season."

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