TORONTO – Scott Clemmensen finally delivered the shootout win Toronto Maple Leafs fans have been hoping for.
He was in goal for New Jersey on the final day of last season when the Devils lost to the New York Islanders in a shootout, which allowed them to jump past Toronto and grab the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Clemmensen made amends on Tuesday. Making his first start as a Maple Leaf, he stopped Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards in a shootout to help the Maple Leafs to a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Clemmensen. “It’s a shootout win about six months too late but we got it.
“I know that Leafs fans were rooting for me at the end of last year and I hope that they’ll continue to root for me now that I’m actually wearing the sweater.”
Tomas Kaberle and Mats Sundin each scored in the shootout to give Toronto its first win in the tiebreaker all season. It also gave Clemmensen his first NHL win since Feb. 25, 2007.
The 30-year-old spent parts of the past six years bouncing between the AHL and serving as Martin Brodeur’s backup with the Devils. He signed with the Maple Leafs over the summer and had an 11-4 record with the team’s AHL affiliate before being called up when Vesa Toskala suffered a groin injury last month.
Toskala is doubtful for Thursday’s game in Pittsburgh so Clemmensen could get another start. But he’s not taking anything for granted.
“I’ve been around the block too long to know how this goes here,” said Clemmensen, the first Iowan to play above the ECHL. “Vesa’s clearly the No. 1 guy here. That’s for sure, it’s not debatable right now.
“A lot of things can happen and those things are way out of my reach and out of my control.”
His play seemed to impress coach Paul Maurice.
“He has a certain veteran presence about him,” said Maurice. “He looks like he has been in an NHL dressing room for a while – and he has. He looks like he’s been involved in some big games – and he has.
“He looks like he’s learned from the best – and he has.”
Sundin, Jason Blake, and Hal Gill had goals in regulation for the Maple Leafs (16-16-8). Blake also had two assists while playing on Sundin’s wing for the first time in more than a month.
Andreas Karlsson, Martin St. Louis and Paul Ranger replied for Tampa Bay (15-21-4), which has only one win in its last nine and remains the NHL’s worst road team.
They’re also dead last in the Eastern Conference heading into games Thursday at Montreal and Saturday at Ottawa. Lightning coach John Tortorella blamed St. Louis, Richards and Vincent Lecavalier for the team’s latest defeat.
“Our top players have to play better, they have to step up,” he said. “Our third and fourth lines played well, but our top two lines were outplayed by their top players.
“Their top guys outplayed our top guys … that’s why you walk away with one point and not two.”
Blake was expected to be one of Toronto’s top players when he signed a $20-million, five-year contract in the summer but it hasn’t turned out that way so far. He was held pointless in eight games before breaking out against the Lightning and has just six goals one year after scoring 40.
The speedy winger looked rejuvenated while playing with Sundin and Alex Steen and is hoping to pick up his production.
“I don’t want to look behind I just want to look forward,” said Blake.
The Leafs need to do the same thing. The win moved them into 11th spot in the Eastern Conference and they’ll likely remain in a battle for a playoff spot right until the end of the season.
Tough victories like the one they had on Tuesday should certainly help.
Karlsson opened the scoring for Tampa at 13:29 of the first period with his first goal of the season. The Swede took a nice pass out of mid-air from Jan Hlavac and batted it into the goal.
Blake made it 1-1 at 3:23 of the second period after taking the puck at the side of the goal and banking a shot in off Lightning goalie Karri Ramo.
Sundin put the Maple Leafs up 2-1 with his team-leading 18th goal at 9:39. The captain took a pass from Blake and broke in alone down the wing before faking a shot and roofing the puck over Ramo.
St. Louis tied the game just 29 seconds later off a faceoff in the Leafs zone when Vinny Prospal beat Leafs defenceman Pavel Kubina to the puck and fed him in front.
Gill’s second goal of the season at 17:27 of the second period put Toronto back in front. The big defenceman’s point shot found its way through a sea of bodies after the Maple Leafs had pinned Tampa its own zone for a couple minutes.
The Leafs looked headed for victory until Ranger tied it with 40.3 seconds remaining. His shot floated through a crowd and appeared to hit something before beating Clemmensen.
“That goal, it can’t really happen,” said Steen. “We’ve got to do a better job getting in the lanes and blocking those shots. It’s tough for Clemmer to see when there’s a lot of people between the puck and himself.”
It didn’t deflate the Leafs, who outshot Tampa Bay 5-1 in overtime before winning it in the shootout.
Clemmensen was named the game’s second star and felt great about his performance.
“My whole career I’ve had to fight and work hard to get where I’m at,” he said. “If I get the start in Pittsburgh that’s great. If I don’t, I’m going to be happy with the way I played tonight.
“That’s what it is – it’s proving yourself every day.”
Notes: Leafs forward Kyle Wellwood was a healthy scratch after scoring just once in 15 games. Jiri Tlusty took his spot … Toronto is 16-4-2 when playing a home game on New Year’s Day … Ramo’s only career victory came against the Maple Leafs on Dec. 20 … Lightning forward Brad Richards is last in the league with a minus-23 rating … Toronto leads the season series 2-1. The final meeting between the teams is on Feb. 29 in Tampa.