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Leafs top 'Canes 2-1 in OT

by Neil Acharya /
TORONTO -- Tim Connolly finally gave the Toronto Leafs the kind of offensive boost they've been waiting for.

Connolly, a free-agent signee this summer who's been battling injuries all season, scored his second goal of the night 44 seconds into overtime Tuesday to give the Leafs a 2-1 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Connolly got his sixth goal of the season when he shoveled home a loose puck in the crease after Joffrey Lupul's initial slapper squirted behind Cam Ward, who slammed his stick in disgust after the loss.

"I was just stretching along the far blue line and he did a great job of driving wide and shooting the puck. A lot of times in overtime that's the best play, just to shoot it on net and then he crashed the net and I was able to pick up the loose change," said Connolly whose last two-goal game came last Oct. 22 against Ottawa while he was a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

"Ward was doing a good job fronting pucks and stopping pucks, and we knew we were just going to have to grind it out and get a couple of ugly ones and that's what we were able to do."

Connolly's heroics ended a game in which the 19,509 fans who packed the Air Canada Centre watched more than 55 minutes of scoreless hockey.

Connolly finally opened the scoring with 4:14 left in regulation. Clarke MacArthur shook off defenseman Derek Joslin by circling back to the blue line before firing a pass into a crowd to Ward's right that Connolly deflected into the net.  

Leafs coach Ron Wilson likes the depth that Connolly provides the club.

"Over his career, when he is healthy he has been a very good player, and that's the goal here -- to keep him healthy [so] he doesn't have to play much, he plays 15 or 16 minutes," Wilson said. "Having him [Mikhail] Grabovski and [Tyler] Bozak in the lineup and playing with different people, we've got a little bit of balance in terms of scoring

However, Wilson surely was not happy when Lupul was called for high-sticking less than a minute after Connolly's goal. Carolina capitalized as former Leaf Alexei Ponikarovsky took a tape-to-tape pass in the crease from Eric Staal to score his seventh of the season at 18:06. Staal now has six points in his past four games and has only been held pointless in one game this month.

Eight of the past 10 goals scored against the Leafs have been on the power play while Carolina has converted on four of its past 12 opportunities.

Despite falling to 1-6-1 since taking over as coach, Carolina's Kirk Muller remained upbeat after the loss as he explained why the power play seems to be turning the corner. "Sometimes when you're not winning you press things and we we're really forcing the power play. I was telling them too slow things down, you have two minutes to score, not 30 seconds and have the confidence that you can set up plays and you will get your goals."

Ward was the reason the Hurricanes had something to show for their night. He finished with 36 saves on a night when his team was outshot by exactly a 2-on-1 margin -- 38-19.  Ward was particularly strong in the second period where he made several tough saves.  He denied Phil Kessel's attempt to go five-hole from 10 feet and stopped Matt Frattin's individual effort in which he deked around Jamie McBain. Ward also came up big again on Bozak's backhand chance in the slot and also on a point-blank opportunity by David Steckel.

"Wardo played well, I thought he was our best player, and he kept us in it," Staal said. "He's he is one of those guys that puts a lot of pressure on himself, it's been a tough year, not only for him but for a lot of people here, it was a tough one in the end there, they got a bounce in front of the net and ended the game."  

While Toronto peppered Ward with shots, the Leafs also gave away the puck 22 times in a game that featured sloppy play from both sides.   

James Reimer was tested sparingly and made 18 saves for his first win since returning from a concussion sustained Oct. 22 against Montreal. Chad LaRose provided the toughest tests for the second-year goaltender, forcing Reimer to come up big on a shorthanded rush in the third period and prior to that, on a wraparound attempt in the dying seconds of the second period.

The ‘Canes return home on Thursday to host Vancouver after a 1-2-1 road trip. The Leafs visit Buffalo on Friday for the first meeting of the season between the Northeast Division rivals, then return home for a Saturday night showdown against Vancouver.

"If we're feeling pressure the second week of December, we're in a lot of trouble," Wilson said of the schedule. "There's no pressure or anything like that. Our guys had a very professional approach to the game tonight -- you wouldn't know that we were one of the youngest teams in the League how poised we were right through the whole game."
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