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Leafs edge struggling Capitals 3-2

by Neil Acharya

TORONTO -- Matt Frattin's case for a full-time roster spot with the Toronto Maple Leafs is getting stronger game by game.

Nikolai Kulemin and Frattin scored just over two minutes apart as the Leafs won for the first time at home this season by rallying to beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Thursday night.

Kulemin shoveled home a loose puck at 7:40 after Matt Kostka's shot trickled past Michal Neuvirth in the crease. Frattin, who got the OT winner with 1.5 seconds left in Buffalo on Tuesday, gave Toronto its first lead of the night at 9:53 when he finished off a give-and-go with Nazem Kadri.

"It was a nice little tic-tac-toe with me and Naz, but I think the play that made it was Leo [Komarov] driving, he took two of the guys to the net. Not too many people noticed that play," Frattin said. "Last year, towards the end of the year, I started playing my game -- and with the [Toronto] Marlies, I thought I was playing really well down there and just continuing with the games up here after I got called up."

Frattin began the season with the Marlies, the Leafs' AHL affiliate, but was called up last week after Joffrey Lupul was sidelined with a fractured forearm. He has four goals and two assists in the four games he's played.

Neuvirth kept the Capitals in the game with 37 saves and helped Washington kill off seven of eight Toronto power plays. Prior to Kulemin's tying goal, Neuvirth had stopped 30 of 31 shots and seemed to be in a groove.

"Our message was that there were a whole bunch of positives in the hockey game for us after two periods," Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "I thought for 52 minutes of the hockey game we didn't let up .. we found a way to win the hockey game and the work ethic that they displayed tonight and the energy that they provided – now they are in trouble because they've done it for two games in a row and now coach is going to expect that every game."

The Capitals fell to 1-5-1 this season under new coach Adam Oates. They've lost back-to-back games this week in which they've failed to hold a one-goal lead in the third period.

Alex Ovechkin gave Washington a 2-1 lead with the only goal of the second period. Ovechkin's low power-play drive from the left circle beat James Reimer at 2:38 for just his second of the season. It was his first goal at the Air Canada Centre since April 5, 2011.

Ovechkin pointed to the eight power plays the Capitals gave Toronto as the reason for the loss.

"We got too many penalties right away. Lots of the guys sitting on the bench were cold," said Ovechkin, who has just three points in the Caps' seven games this season.

"You wanna' be out there as much as you can. ... In the second period [we had] the kind of situations where we [were shorthanded] and I'm sitting and I was kind of not in the game. But again it's all about us; we took stupid penalties – everybody has to do their jobs and play hockey."

Neuvirth made several keys saves in the second, getting his shoulder and blocker on Dion Phaneuf's hard shot less than five minutes into the period and coming up big once again with the Maple Leafs on their third power play of the period by diving across his body to stop James Van Riemsdyk from in close.

"It's a very disappointing loss obviously, we were up 2-1 after the second like in Ottawa," a dejected Neuvirth said. "Maybe we are missing a little bit of luck and we definitely have to stay out of the box."

Tenacious forechecking by the Capitals' third line led to game's first goal just 1:36 after the opening faceoff. Jason Chimera won a battle for the puck behind Reimer and fed Mike Ribeiro, who was covered near the side of the crease, but Ribeiro spun free from Frattin's check and his pass through the crease found Ward, who was unchecked and rifled home his team-high fourth of the season.

The Leafs had five power plays in the first 10:27, but managed only one goal -- Van Riemsdyk's fourth of the season at 8:19 with Chimera serving a double minor for interference and unsportsmanlike conduct. Tyler Bozak started the play by wheeling the puck from the side of the net into the slot where Phil Kessel was able to send a low shot on net that came out to Van Riemsdyk alone in front for a put-away.

It was one of three shots for the goalless Kessel in the first period; he also deflected a shot that rang off the iron earlier in the period. Kessel finished with six shots on goal, and he was robbed late in the third on a tremendous glove save by Neuvirth.

"It's tough to not get frustrated but you've got to try your best, and we are winning games so what does it matter right? That's all that matters," said Kessel, who has four consecutive 30-goal seasons and has played well despite not finding the back of the net.

When asked in jest as to what he may have done to elicit his current misfortune, Kessel answered jokingly, "I don't know what I did, I must have done something," before adding - "it will be all right, they will eventually go in."

The Leafs missed a chance to go ahead when they had 78 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play -- the third time in as many home games this season that they've failed to convert a two-man advantage. Overall, Toronto is just 6 for 39 (15.4 percent) with the extra man.

"We are not right in sync yet, but it's not far off ... the execution is off, whatever percentile you want to add to it," Carlyle said. "It's got to get better, and we will continue to work on it."

Neuvirth made 14 first-period stops, none better than a denial of Kulemin on a backdoor setup from Mikhail Grabovski at 12:30.

After allowing a quick goal to start the game and being victimized by Ovechkin, Reimer settled down and ended up with 20 saves.

"Anytime you get a flurry of shots, you get more into the game," said Reimer, who had a relatively light night in earning his third win of the season. "But they were kind of sparse today, so you just had to keep your head in it and keep talking too yourself and hope that you could make that next save for your boys."

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