RALEIGH, N.C. -- After Peter Holland and Joffrey Lupul scored in the shootout to lift the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 2-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Friday, Toronto coach Mike Babcock wasn't taking too much credit on his team's behalf.
"Let's be real honest, they were better than we were," Babcock said. "We played good defense and had good goaltending, but they were quicker and faster and executed better."
The game didn't really take shape until the latter half of the third period; before that, tight defense yielded few scoring chances for either team.
After holding a 22-12 advantage on shots through two periods, the Hurricanes broke the scoreless tie with 7:47 remaining in the third when Brad Malone scored from below the goal line, squeezing a shot inside the right post past James Reimer. The goal was the first of the season for Malone, who had seven hits after being a healthy scratch the past four games.
"It's a bad bounce," said Reimer, who made 33 saves through overtime. "I thought I was there and I was doing everything I needed to do, and it found a way to ramp up my stick and find a hole. You just keep battling."
But Nazem Kadri tied the game 1-1 on the power play with 3:33 remaining in the third period, taking a short a pass from Leo Komarov and beating Cam Ward with a wrist shot in the slot. The goal was Kadri's second of the season and ended a 15-game drought.
"It was a relief," Kadri said. "We needed a goal at a pretty big time. Everyone contributed. I was able to be in the right spot at the right time and put it in."
The game moved to overtime, where Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk was called for slashing the stick out of the hands of Komarov with 2:47 left. But Toronto couldn't get anything past Ward, who made 24 saves.
"It just goes to show you, (4-on-3s) are not slam dunks, even though you think it's gonna be," Babcock said.
After Holland beat Ward under the crossbar to begin the shootout, the teams went scoreless until Carolina's third-round attempt, when Riley Nash beat Reimer between the pads to extend the shootout.
After Tyler Bozak missed, Reimer delivered his best save, stopping Elias Lindholm with a low glove save, coming across the crease.
"I wasn't too happy with the third one [against Nash]," said Reimer, who won his fifth straight game. "I kind of got impatient and gave him way too much to shoot at, and he took advantage of it. On [Lindholm's] shot, he brought it east-west and I was lucky enough to just get something on it."
That set up the game-winner for Lupul, who deked Ward before beating him over the glove with a wrist shot.
"To win in the shootout was positive, but we're not going to win every night, especially on the road," Babcock said. "You stick with it and be resilient and get it done. When you're a good team, that's what you do."
The Leafs, who play at the Boston Bruins on Saturday, have won five of six and are 5-1-2 in their past eight games. The win is just the latest reminder that Toronto isn't merely thinking about the long-term future.
"Everyone is excited. We've got momentum and confidence," Kadri said. "The belief was always there. We never once came in thinking that this was a year to regroup and a year to build through the draft. We wanted to win from day one."
The Hurricanes remain mired in a difficult month of November, slipping to 1-4-3 with the Los Angeles Kings to PNC Arena on Sunday.
"We had some good looks and good chances, but we found a way to lose again. It's something we're going to have to figure out here," said Kris Versteeg, who assisted on Malone's goal. "We're going to need more than one goal to win. We're playing good. A bounce here or there might help."