The ACC was rocking tonight like it hasn’t rocked all season, ‘cept maybe at the home opener against Montreal. There’s been some rough times since that loss, but all was forgotten tonight when the Leafs ripped off five straight goals in the 2nd period to take control of the Thrashers. Tonight, Toronto played the way I think Brian Burke envisioned them playing all season, taking the body, winning the one-on-battles and crashing the net.
All five of the Leafs’ goals came off of rebounds – including Alexei Ponikarovsky’s two tallies 28 seconds apart that really put the game away for Toronto. Pavelec turned in a decent performance, making 17 saves over the first two periods, but the Leafs’ hard work finally paid off as they simply outworked Atlanta all night.
One of the best things about tonight’s win was the performance of Vesa Toskala, who got his 2nd win of the season. Toskala made a couple of huge saves throughout, but most importantly, he made them at crucial times in the game. Midway through the first, Toskala had to make two quick saves on Slava Kozlov to keep the game scoreless. He came up big again in the 2nd, robbing Kozlov again, this time with a reaching glove save on Kozlov’s backhand attempt, keeping the Leafs in firm control of the game. Part of the problem for the Leafs this year has been a failure to maintain momentum on the rare occasions that they’ve had it early on in games. Tonight, Toskala made the big saves that he hasn’t been able to make all season, and the Leafs responded by scoring two more goals before the end of the period.
Lee Stempniak scored first, capitalizing on a couple giveaways by the Thrashers early in the 2nd, and Matt Stajan scored his 5th goal in the last 10 games to give the Leafs a 2-0 lead. Mikhail Grabovski got what would turn out to be the game winning goal just after the midway point of the period, winning a battle in front of the net and knocking home the loose puck After Toskala’s save on Kozlov, the Leafs poured it on in the last five minutes, keeping the puck in the Thrashers zone for nearly all of the last five minutes. Ponikarovsky scored his first goal after setting a screen with Stajan in front, knocking Beacuhemin’s point shot down and snapping it past a sprawling Pavelec. Less than thirty seconds later, he was the trailer on a 3-on-2 and had a wide open net to bury a rebound off Stajan’s wrist shot.
Things got a bit dicey in the 3rd when the Thrashers got two back in under a minute. Bryan Little and Marty Reasoner scored 35 seconds apart and for a second, a tiny bit of “Here-we-go-again” that has plagued Leafs fans all season crept in. Thankfully, the Leafs were able to lock it down and close out the game.
Toronto outshot Atlanta 28-24, the 18th time they’ve outshot their opponent this season. Nik Antropov was held scoreless in his return to Toronto, while Pavel Kubina got an assist on Little’s powerplay goal.
The Leafs have tomorrow off, and will host the Islanders on Wednesday. After tonight’s performance, the Leafs will look to get a little payback for the last time they met the Isles, when Dwayne Roloson stopped 58 of 61 shots to give New York a 4-3 OT win.