TORONTO – It was the most delicious moment of Carlo Colaiacovo’s hockey season.
The Toronto-born defenceman, who has been limited by injuries to only eight games, threw his arms skyward in celebration after scoring the winning goal for the Maple Leafs in a 4-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night.
“It feels special, it really does,” Colaiacovo said of his first goal in a season interrupted by long stretches as a limping bystander. “The more special part is the win.
“We battled real hard the last week not getting the fate that we wanted but (Saturday) things went our way and we got what we wanted.”
The injury-depleted Leafs had argued they got a raw deal in losing 3-2 at Carolina on Thursday. This time, the breaks went their way, and they didn’t take a penalty all night. They remain 14th in the NHL’s Eastern Conference and a playoff berth is highly unlikely, but wins like this one keep the post-season flame flickering, albiet faintly.
“We’ve not giving up in here,” Colaiacovo pledged. “We’re a determined bunch and we’re going to continue playing right to the end.”
Dominic Moore and Jiri Tlusty staked Toronto to a two-goal lead, goals for Ottawa by Nick Foligno late in the first period and by Chris Neil early in the third tied it, and the Leafs pulled ahead to stay on goals by Colaiacovo and Jason Blake.
“It was a strong effort by everybody,” said Colaiacovo. “From the start of the game, we were a determined bunch.
“We weren’t going to let anything get in our way. When they tied it early in the third, we were still up on our bench and we believed we were going to win this game. From the first minute to the last minute, it was just a heck of a game by all of us.”
Coach Paul Maurice used makeshift forward lines that included AHL call-ups and the 19,543 Air Canada Centre spectators ate up the determined effort.
The Senators, who have major injury woes of their own, looked nothing like the team that has led the East most of the season.
“We had a bit of a tough start in the first period, and in the second we were undisciplined, took a lot of penalties and couldn’t seem to get much momentum going at all throughout the whole game,” said centre Mike Fisher. “They deserved to win.”
With Montreal beating the New York Islanders 4-1 earlier Saturday, the Canadiens now are within three points of the slumping Senators, who are 3-7 in their last 10. The Senators play in Montreal on Tuesday.
Moore, who was claimed off waivers from Minnesota on Jan. 11, banged a rebound past Ray Emery at 9:32 for his first goal in 10 games in the blue and white. A Luke Richardson giveaway to Boyd Devereaux behind the net set it up.
Tlusty made it 2-0 when he beat Fisher to a rebound and backhanded it in at 14:27 on a power play for his fifth goal of the season.
Foligno deflected in a Randy Robitaille pass out of a corner at 15:18 for his sixth of the season, and the Senators headed off for the first intermission down by only one goal despite being outshot 12-3.
Six penalties had been assessed by the middle of the second period – all against Ottawa, including three to Andrej Meszaros – but it was the same old story for the Leafs as the power play fizzled time and again. They entered the game ranked 28th in the league with manpower advantages, which was a significant contributor to their 17 one-goal losses.
Shots were 21-9 after 40 minutes.
Neil made it 2-2 at 1:32 of the third period. Vesa Toskala went down to stop his first shot. With defencemen Hal Gill and Anton Stralman off in a corner and behind the net, there was nobody to stop Neil from getting the rebound, gliding across the crease and slipping the puck into the open net for his sixth of the season.
Colaiacovo broke the tie at 4:28 when he rushed to the net to get a cross-crease pass from Robbie Earl and park the puck into the open side of the net for his first goal of the season. Earl was appearing in his first NHL game, and the point was his first.
Blake took advantage of some shoddy play by Richardson and defence mate Joe Corvo to restore a two-goal Toronto lead. Matt Stajan spotted Blake breaking to the net and fed the puck. Blake had a clear path to the crease and beat Emery with a wrist shot at 8:08 for his 11th.
The final shots count was 26-21 in Toronto’s favour.
Moore, who is from Thornhill just north of the city and who is the brother of former NHLer Steve Moore, was ecstatic to get his first goal as a Leaf during a Hockey Night In Canada broadcast.
“It’s nice to be home and to be able to acknowledge the people of Toronto after the game,” he said after being named the game’s first star. “I take pride in my versatility and whatever way I can help out I’m happy to do.
“That I was able to pitch in is something that I’m happy about.”
Moore, Earl and Devereaux comprised an effective line.
“I think I settled the nerves down a little bit and was able to be at least effective out there,” said Earl.
Ottawa’s Jason Spezza again looked lost without the injured Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson.
“They played well defensively,” Spezza said of the Leafs. “It’s tough to explain why they get (six) power plays and we get none, but that’s something that’s out of our control
“It’s tough to beat a team when they carry the momentum like that.”
The Leafs play at home Tuesday against Florida, are in Montreal on Thursday and are back home to face Detroit on Saturday.
“We’ve been playing pretty well defensively, I’d say, for the last five or six games – maybe even further back than that,” said Darcy Tucker.
Notes: There were no penalties after Ottawa took its sixth. … D Bryan McCabe (broken hand) missed a 21st consecutive game. It’ll be at least two more weeks before McCabe can play again. The Leafs also were without F Nik Antropov (suspension), RW Alex Steen (dislocated shoulder), LW Alexei Ponikarovsky (dislocated shoulder), LW Chad Kilger (personal reasons), F Mark Bell (broken orbital bone) and C John Pohl (sprained ankle). … The Senators were missing C Alfredsson (hip flexor), RW Heatley (dislocated shoulder) and RW Patrick Eaves (shoulder/neck). … Earl was Toronto’s fourth pick, 187th overall, in the 2004 entry draft. In 44 AHL games with the Toronto Marlies, the native of Chicago had 11 goals and 22 assists. … Most regular-season overtime goals all-time: 1. Mats Sundin and Jaromir Jagr, 15 each; 3. Sergei Fedorov, 14; 4. Steve Thomas, 13; 5. Nels Stewart and Brett Hull, 12 each. … More than 200 Canadian Forces personnel were guests of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment for the game.