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Leafs "rally" for 2-1 shootout win over Capitals

by John Kreiser /

Maybe all the Toronto Maple Leafs needed were rally helmets.

After losing all six of their games that had gone past regulation, the Leafs opted for a new look when Saturday night's game against the Washington Capitals went to a shootout. They turned their helmets around -- and their luck with it: Shootout goals by Phil Kessel and Niklas Hagman gave the Leafs a 2-1 victory.

"It doesn't matter how we look if we win," Hagman said after the Leafs also ended their overall five-game losing streak. "You've got to change something up."

Added coach Ron Wilson: "It's nice that they're trying to change their luck."

Actually, Toronto's luck may have changed earlier. Their lone goal came when Jason Blake's shot deflected off a Caps defender, hit Hagman in the hip as he drove to the net and got behind Semyon Varlamov at 16:49 of the second period, tying the game at 1-1.

"We got a luck break on our goal, but I think we deserved it," Wilson said.

Their good fortune continued late in the third period; Washington's Eric Fehr and Brian Pothier each had shots hit the post in the final three minutes, and Fehr had his stick break on the Caps' first shootout attempt. Hagman ended it in the third round of the shootout by roofing a backhander.

The victory may help revive the Leafs, who at 4-11-6 are off to their worst start since 1990 and came into the game on the heels of Thursday's loss at Carolina -- a game in which they blew a 3-0 lead, allowed the tying goal with 2.9 seconds left in regulation and lost in a shootout.

"It shows we've got character," defenseman Ian White said. "We're not just going to fold over and skate away."

Alex Ovechkin scored 17:11 into the game for Washington (13-5-5), but he and his teammates looked sluggish -- perhaps because they were playing on back-to-back nights and were missing seven players due to injuries. The Leafs dominated play for most of the night and got to the shootout only because of a 38-save performance by Varlamov.

"I think they had more gas," Ovechkin said of the Maple Leafs.

One person surprised at Toronto's struggles is Washington coach Bruce Boudreau.

"They're going to turn it around very shortly," he said. "Whether they're too far (out of the playoffs) or not, I don't know. But they're going to be a hard team to play against in the not-too-distant future."

Toronto did what it has done in all but three games this season -- give up the first goal. This time, Ovechkin took a pass from streaking defenseman Mike Green and ripped a shot past Vesa Toskala for his 16th goal in 17 career games against the Leafs.

But Toskala, who hadn't won a game all season, was unbeatable the rest of the way. He reached across an empty cage to take a sure goal away from Ovechkin, winning back some of the fans who had jeered him early on.

"It's usually a fine line between winning and losing," said Toskala. "Luck was on our side."

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