Midway through the third period, it seemed as if the New York Rangers
were well on their way to another shutout victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs
But John Mitchell
simply wouldn't oblige.
The Leafs' rookie scored his first two NHL goals during a five-goal outburst in less than six minutes as Toronto won a wild 5-2 affair with the Blueshirts at the Air Canada Centre.
Things certainly didn't look good when Mitchell was whistled for holding with 9:50 remaining in regulation. But the Leafs were able to kill the penalty, and Mitchell got the party started when he beat Steve Valiquette
at 12:36. Jason Blake
tied it at 14:02 and Toronto never looked back.
"I would never imagine it would be like this," Mitchell said. "It's quite incredible how it all happened. To get one goal was great. The other one, I couldn't believe it. It was awesome."
The Rangers, who beat Toronto 1-0 in a shootout 15 days ago with Valiquette in goal, got off to the start they were hoping for when Ryan Callahan
scored in the final seconds of the first period. After receiving a nice cross-ice feed from Dan Girardi
, Callahan fired a high wrist shot past Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala
for his fourth goal of the season.
doubled New York's lead at 15:25 of the second period. Betts was the recipient of a lucky bounce, as Dmitri Kalinin
's shot caromed off the end boards right onto his stick and he fired the puck into an open net for his second goal of the season — matching his total from 2007-08.
The Blueshirts took the 2-0 lead into the third period and held it for more than 10 minutes. Then everything fell apart.
Mitchell scored his first goal just 26 seconds after his penalty expired. After skating back onto the ice, he found some open room in the slot, took a pass from Matt Stajan
and roofed a shot over Valiquette to make it 2-1.
"I kind of took a sloppy penalty," Mitchell admitted. "I was just hoping that they wouldn't score on the power play and go up 3-0. When I got out there, I didn't know if I was supposed to change or not. We were going on a rush and I just jumped in. The puck squirted right out to me in the slot, and I just kind of waited for Valiquette to go down, and then just went far-side on him."
After Blake tied the game with his second goal of the season, Pavel Kubina
put Toronto ahead just 52 seconds later, when he received a feed from Nik Antropov
and rifled a slap shot past Valiquette to make it 3-2.
"We were waiting for a break," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "They got some key saves. We hit the post once. They got a goal at the end of first period and took advantage of a couple of mistakes he made. We applied a little bit more pressure and threw a few more pucks at the net."
Mitchell threw another puck at the net and it went past Valiquette to give Toronto a two-goal lead with 3:54 left. Dominic Moore
finished off the onslaught at 17:57, as the Rangers left the raucous rink completely shell-shocked.
"The trolley came off the tracks with silly passes in the offensive zone that allowed a good transition team to get excited," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "We deserved what we got tonight. We didn't manage the puck well. Our power play needed to score a goal for us, and it didn't. What we've got to do is deal with it in a mature way and take responsibility here and move on."
The five-goal blitz left Valiquette, a Toronto-area native, dazed and confused. The Leafs outshot New York 17-4 in the final 20 minutes.
"I don't know exactly why that happened," the Rangers' netminder said. "It hasn't soaked in yet ... I'm really surprised."
Wilson believes it was his team's willingness to finally drive to the net that changed the momentum — and the score — so drastically.
"It's just not shooting," Wilson said. "If you look at all the goals, we were going hard to the net. That presents a little bit of a distraction. We drove to the net a little bit better in the third period."
In the process, Mitchell experienced a night he'll never forget. The 23-year-old spent three full seasons in the American Hockey League before finally getting a shot with the big club this season.
"It's incredible ... I can't put it into words," said Mitchell, a fifth-round draft pick in 2003. "I'm still kind of shaken right now. I'm so excited how it all turned out. I couldn't have asked for anything better."