If the Toronto Maple Leafs
found the post-regulation time success they have shown of late, coach Ron Wilson's team might be doing just more than acting as spoilers in the NHL playoff race.
As it is, John Mitchell's shootout goal combined with goalie Jonas Gustavsson
's stop on Brian Gionta
gave last-place Toronto a 3-2 victory at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night -- its fourth straight extra-time win after 12 losses in 13 overtime/shootout games to start the season.
"We're a confident group in here we're young, we're having a lot of fun, obviously, coming into games and winning," Mitchell said over the celebratory post-game music filtering out from the Maple Leafs' dressing room's inner sanctum. "Overtime and shootouts were kind of our nemesis earlier in the season but things have turned for us obviously in the past few weeks, so we're just going to ride this. It's great for our team and it's great especially for all the young guys in here."
Mitchell put Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak on his backside with a beautiful deke move similar to one he used in Toronto's shootout win over New Jersey on Thursday.
"Goalies will catch on and what not and you'll have to adjust," said Mitchell. "If you can get a goalie sliding to one side on both pads, it's real tough for him to get back and make that save unless he kind of just does a snow angel."
Mitchell's goal ended Montreal's six-game winning streak once Gustavsson stopped Gionta in the Canadiens final shootout attempt.
"I thought everybody else tried to deke me, so I figured maybe he was going to shoot there," said Gustavsson, now the winner of five straight starts. "We were lucky that time, I think it hit my arm there, actually I thought he was going to shoot the other side, but it was a great save. A relief."
Toronto's victory snapped a personal six-game winning streak for Halak and gave the Maple Leafs six wins in their last seven games. They've won three consecutive games overall and five straight at home.
Montreal salvaged a key point in its battle for one of the Eastern Conference's final four playoff spots when Gionta scored his second goal of the night to tie the game 2-2 with 6:06 left in the third period.
Gionta's second goal of the game with Fredrik Sjostrom off for tripping redeemed an 0-for-5 start to the night for the League's second-best power-play.
Before Gionta tipped Scott Gomez
's point shot past Gustavsson with 6:06 left in the third period, Toronto had killed off five straight man advantage opportunities for Montreal. That included a four-minute high sticking double-minor to Jamie Lundmark for catching Habs winger Maxim Lapierre in the face at the 18:38 mark of the second.
The announced crowd of 19,538 at the Air Canada Centre gave a hearty cheer to Toronto's penalty killing efforts when the full four minutes had expired without so much as a quality chance for the visitors.
's sixth goal in six games helped Toronto to a 2-1 lead at the 18:15 mark of the middle period.
Halak turned aside all but two of Toronto's 33 shots, though he no doubt would like another crack at Kessel's team-leading 28th goal of the season.
After Nikolai Kulemin
stormed up the left side with the puck, he fired a cross-ice pass to Kessel streaking up the middle. The Wisconsin native barely paused before letting loose a wrist shot that went over Halak's right shoulder as he slid to his left.
A power-play goal put Toronto ahead 1-0 at the 16:05 mark of the first period.
potted his seventh goal of the season came on a secondary rebound after Halak stopped Dion Phaneuf
's hard shot from the point.
Phaneuf's assist on the goal gave him points in back-to-back games though he still only has three points in 11 games for Toronto since play resumed following the Olympic break.
Gionta tied the game with 54 seconds left in the first period on a weak backhand that got through Gustavsson's short side. Gustavsson stopped 25 of 27 shots before the shootout.
Jeremy Sandler covers sports for the National Post newspaper in Toronto.