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Leafs top Devils 3-2 in shootout

by Brian Compton /
The way things have gone for Jason Blake the past year and a half, you could hardly blame him for what he did on Tuesday night.

With his team searching for an extra point in the standings in a shootout against the New Jersey Devils, the speedy forward skated to the top of the crease and did a 360-degree spin before tucking the puck behind Scott Clemmensen, lifting the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 3-2 victory at Air Canada Centre.

The victory helped the Leafs improve to 2-4 in shootouts this season. Both victories have come against the Devils. Toronto is now 12-22 since the shootout was introduced in 2005.

"It's something I do behind closed doors when no one's watching," joked Blake, who has just 20 goals since signing a five-year, $20 million deal with the Leafs in the summer of 2007. "Shootouts are tough — it's just you and the goalie. You've got to make a move or a deke. I haven't had much luck in shootouts, so I figured what the heck … I'll try the spin move."

Clemmensen, who made 25 saves and lost for the first time in five starts, couldn't do much more than shrug when asked about Blake's highlight-reel tally.

"Not much you can do as a goalie, he's coming one way and kind of backs into you," Clemmensen said. "If you go to the other side, you can kind of throw your stick down, but that's about all you can do after he backs into you."

The game never would have reached the shootout if not for a brilliant save by Vesa Toskala in the final seconds of overtime. The Toronto goaltender was able to get his pad on Travis Zajac's breakaway attempt for the last of his 25 saves.

New Jersey scored the lone goal of the first period, which came just 1:49 after the opening faceoff. After Toskala denied a 2-on-1 chance against John Madden and Colin White, Michael Rupp followed the play and stripped defenseman Jeff Finger of the puck before stuffing home his third of the season to make it 1-0.

Nik Antropov tied the game at 7:24 of the second period. With the teams at even strength -- the Leafs went 0-for-2 on the power play -- Antropov put Tomas Kaberle's rebound past Clemmensen to make it 1-1 for his 11th goal of the season.

Jeremy Williams then continued to make the most of his recent promotion from the AHL Toronto Marlies as he scored his third goal in as many games at 15:06 of the second. Williams, who also scored in the shootout, took a pass from Kaberle and ripped a wrist shot past Clemmensen to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead.

''I'm obviously having a great time,'' Williams said. ''It's my dream. It's something I've been working for the last five years. I just want to continue working hard out there and hopefully continuing getting success and trying to earn a spot.''

Williams and Clemmensen played together for the Marlies last season.

''I know he likes to go glove side,'' Clemmensen said. ''The one he scored in the second period, I thought he was going to go a little higher than he actually did. He's got a great shot and he uses it, obviously.''

As well as Williams has performed during this call-up, Leafs coach Ron Wilson said the forward hasn't cemented a spot with the big club just yet.

"Right now I'm watching him under the microscope," Wilson said. "If I see him get comfortable, then we're going to yank his chain around."

Zach Parise tied the game for the Devils with a power-play goal in the final minute of the second period. After Finger was whistled for tripping, Parise drove hard to the net and deflected the puck off his visor and past Toskala to make it 2-2. It was his 17th goal of the season.

"Our problem was the turnovers in the neutral zone. They have a very good transition game," Parise said.

After two scoreless rounds in the shootout, Williams gave the Leafs the edge with a tally in Round 3. Patrik Elias extended the competition by beating Toskala, but Blake countered with his dazzling goal. Brian Rolston tried to tie things up, but his slap shot from the slot missed the net.

The win helped the Leafs — who were picked by most prognosticators to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs — climb back to the .500 mark at 12-12-6.

"That's basically the line for mediocrity to me," Wilson said.
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.   

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