Mats Sundin and Darcy Tucker rescued the Maple Leafs with shootout goals as Toronto came from behind to beat the Florida Panthers 2-1 Monday night despite a 47-save effort from opposing netminder Alex Auld.
“I like the way out team is playing,” said Tucker, whose nifty backhand deke ended the night. “We’re putting pucks on net. Obviously I’d be happier if more were going in but we’re getting stoned by hot goalies. It will come.”
The Leafs were still scoreless through 40 minutes, despite 36 shots on goal, and wondering what exactly it would take to beat the red-hot Auld.
“You look at the shot clock after two periods and you’re wondering what’s going on,” said Sundin. “But we didn’t get down on ourselves. It’s almost nicer to win this way because we found a way.”
Kyle Wellwood scored the lone goal in regulation for the Leafs (2-1-1), whose victory was tempered by the potentially damaging loss of top-four defenceman Pavel Kubina to a knee injury with 2:48 left in the third period. He didn’t return to the game and had great difficulty making it to the dressing room.
“I have concerns,” was all head coach Paul Maurice would say after the game. Kubina will re-evaluated Tuesday.
Stephen Weiss scored for the Panthers (1-1-1), who were short-handed after losing a pair of top-six forwards in the game. Winger Rostislav Olesz limped to the dressing room with six minutes left in the first period with a right leg injury while veteran centre Joe Nieuwendyk skated off with five minutes left in the second period with a lower body muscle strain.
Andrew Raycroft stopped 24 shots for the win, and also turned away Nathan Horton and Todd Bertuzzi in the shootout. Raycroft spent most of the night watching the other goalie makes saves.
“He was awesome, he was unbelievable, made some huge saves,” Raycroft said of Auld. “They got the point because of him, that’s for sure.”
Auld’s 40th save of the night was his best, a miraculous glove save off Tucker six minutes into the third period when it looked like a sure goal for the Leafs winger, a stop that had the 19,102 fans at Air Canada Centre buzzing.
“It’s a little frustrating,” said Auld. “To come that close to winning here, obviously it’s tough not to get the (win).”
The Leafs especially dominated the first 40 minutes, outshooting Florida 16-6 in the first period and 20-9 in the second period but were thwarted time and time again by Auld despite quality scoring chances. Saturday the Leafs got two goals on 38 shots in a shootout loss to Montreal.
“As we move along here we’d like to see some rewards for all the shots we’re getting,” said Leafs centre Mike Peca. “And that’ll come.”
Weiss broke a scoreless tie 3:56 into the third period, stuffing in a rebound during a goal-mouth scramble, the Panthers taking advantage of a 5-on-3 power play.
Wellwood tied it 1-1 at 11:17, finally beating Auld with a well-aimed slap shot to the top corner and glove-side.
“I was relieved for sure,” said Wellwood, who has six points (1-5) in four games. “I had a lot of chances tonight and would’ve felt bad if I didn’t get one tonight.”
Panthers defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, who had a strong game, had a great chance to end it in overtime but was stopped on a breakaway by a Raycroft blocker save.
Auld was left woozy after taking a blast from Hal Gill right on the mask in the first period. While the Panthers’ trainer attended to him the savvy ACC crowd chanted “Eddie, Eddie,” hoping to see former Leafs netminder Ed Belfour come off the bench in relief. He didn’t, which is probably a good thing for the Panthers after the 41-year-old was shelled for four goals on nine shots by Atlanta in his first start over the weekend.
The Leafs recorded more than 40 shots on goal for the second time already this season, a feat accomplished only once all of last season.
Notes: Auld’s one career NHL shutout came in March 2003 against Washington … Defencemen Steve Mondador and Joel Kwiatkowski were healthy scratches for Florida. Veteran Finnish forward Ville Peltonen is recovering from a separated shoulder … Defencemen Andrew Wozniewski (shoulder), Carlo Colaiacovo (head), Staffan Kronwall (ankle), Brenden Bell (foot) and forward Nik Antropov (leg) were out for Toronto while winger Aleksander Suglobov was a healthy scratch … The Leafs don’t play again until Thursday at New Jersey, the Devils’ home opener.