March 21, 2006
TORONTO (CP) -- Jason Allison insisted he had no clue until told by a reporter.
``Did Montreal lose tonight?''
Allison's power-play goal with 4:48 remaining in the third period Tuesday night lifted the never-say-die Toronto Maple Leafs to a crucial 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
But demonstrating just how daunting Toronto's task is to sneak into the NHL playoffs, the Leafs, 10th in the Eastern Conference with 70 points, now find themselves chasing Atlanta for the eighth and final playoff spot after the Thrashers rallied to beat Boston 5-4 in a shootout.
Atlanta, with 74 points, leap-frogged the Canadiens, who remained stuck at 73 points after losing 3-1 Tuesday to the New York Islanders.
Alexander Steen was the game's first star.
(Graig Abel Photography)
``We just have to take care of own business and not worry about anything else,'' said Leafs coach Pat Quinn. ``Because we have to climb over two clubs to get where we want to get to.''
All of which sets up a dream-like scenario as the Leafs head to rival Montreal for back-to-back games at the Bell Centre on Thursday and Saturday.
``Montreal wants that (eighth-place) spot back, so they'll be ready to go,'' said Quinn. ``Those are playoff games, that's what they are. I expect that to be a rip-roaring building.''
Alexander Steen and Alexander Khavanov also scored for the Maple Leafs (32-30-6), who got rock solid goaltending and 33 saves from Mikael Tellqvist, making his sixth straight start for the injured Ed Belfour.
``If we keep playing like we are right now we'll be OK,'' said the confident Tellqvist, likely Toronto's No. 1 goalie for the rest of the year and in seasons to come.
Mike Commodore and Eric Staal with his 42nd on the season scored for the Hurricanes for (45-17-6), who rallied with two goals in the third period before Allison settled the entertaining affair.
``It says a lot for the character in here,'' said Allison. ``We've been battling hard for 7-8 games. We just have to find ways to keep winning games.''
Left for dead by many of their own fans, the Leafs are very much in the thick of it with 14 games to go in the regular season.
``I think we knew with even 25 games to go that it would be dog race to the end,'' said captain Mats Sundin. ``Obviously we have two big games in Montreal, but we have to try and keep winning until the end.''
The Leafs played one of their finest defensive games of the season Tuesday against the second-highest scoring team in the conference.
``It may well have been one of our better outings for sure,'' said Quinn. ``I like the way our guys played. In fact, I have for the last 4-5 games even though we didn't get the results (losses in Buffalo and New York).''
Forward Alexander Suglobov and defenceman Brendan Bell played their first games for the Leafs this season. Suglobov, acquired from New Jersey for Ken Klee, didn't look out of place on a line with Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky and he may dress again Thursday in Montreal. He had played two NHL games with the Devils over the last two seasons.
Khavanov gave Toronto a 2-0 lead 2:41 into the third period when his blast from the point on a power play found nothing but net, 19,447 fans jumping out of their seats at Air Canada Centre as it looked like the home team had clinched a huge upset win.
But Commodore stuffed a shot from in-close just over a minute later to make it 2-1 and Staal poked in a rebound on a Carolina power play at 6:57 to tie it 2-2 and suddenly the ACC was quiet.
With Montreal's loss already a final on the out-of-town scoreboard, the Leafs pressured for the winner. Bret Hedican was in the box for a hooking call when Allison grabbed a loose puck in the slot and beat Martin Gerber stick side, a goal that rocked the Air Canada Centre.
Steen opened the scoring 7:04 into the game with 16th goal of the season, the Swedish rookie backhanding a rebound from in tight over Gerber's left shoulder on Toronto's first power play.
Notes: Bell, Toronto's third choice, 65th overall in the 2001 entry draft, played his first NHL game. He replaced Wade Belak, whose wife gave birth earlier Tuesday. Suglobov, who had three goals and one assist in six games for the AHL's Toronto Marlies, replaced veteran tough guy Tie Domi in the lineup. Domi was a healthy scratch for the second time this month. ... The Hurricanes were without star centre Doug Weight (lower body), winger Erik Cole (neck) and defenceman Aaron Ward (upper body). Weight is day to day. ... The Hurricanes face the Sabres in Buffalo on Wednesday night in a possible Eastern Conference final preview. ... The Leafs haven't scored a 5-on-5 goal in four straight games.
I watched that game last night and must say, I was thoroughly impressed with their overall play. Their Powerplay was back into top form, something that was lacking the past few games.
That's the problem with the Maple Leafs that I have. Yes, they have strung together a lot of wins recently, but their 5 on 5 goal production is atrocious. They haven't scored a regular strength goal in the past four games and that scares me, to be quite honest.
The new additions of Suglobov and Bell to the line-ups were felt right away. I was really impressed by their performances. Bell had been given three other opportunities to start for the Maple Leafs in the past two to three weeks, but he was never used. He made his NHL debut last night and albeit, he was catious in his play, he didn't look at all nervous. He looked very poised and professional. I was also impressed with Suglobov's play as well. He has some speed and some fancy moves. However, he needs to save some of the fancy footwork and passes for after he's had ample NHL experience under his belt. His fancy backhand pass could have cost us a goal last night.
Telly in goal in replacement for the injured Belfour, has also very much impressed me. Here is a guy who is only 5' 10" tall, but he plays like he's a monster in goal. He's not huge like say Luongo or Fleury, but he has a big heart, lightning fast reflexes and has been on fire, winning 4 out of his last 6 starts, just what this team needs to get out of it's funk.
Great, great game last night. It's time to take the next two games IN Montreal on Thursday and Saturday. Those two games should be nothing short of outstanding.