Vesa Toskala’s not about to complain about fatigue or an increased workload. He’s just happy to have finally made it as a starter.
Toskala, who Toronto Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice said will be the backup for the team’s final game in Montreal on Saturday night, played a career-high 66 games this year during his first season with the Leafs.
“I played lots of games and I didn’t have too many ups and downs, so I’m happy with that,” said the 30-year-old, who won a career-high 33 games this year. “It’s just too bad I couldn’t help the team a bit more and make the playoffs”.
The affable Finn said fatigue due to an increased workload this season was not a factor down the stretch.
“No, I felt good all the time, body felt good and most of the nights I was able to have fun in there,” he said.
Toskala, who will watch Andrew Raycroft face the Canadiens in Montreal, wasn’t going to let a shellacking in his last game linger too long.
“I think I’m still able to forget this pretty easily,” he said.
While eight of the Ottawa Senators’ 37 shots on Thursday night eluded Toskala, that doesn’t diminish what he’s done for the Leafs all year. In addition to his on-ice skill, Toskala’s easy-going manner helps him excel at one of sports’ most pressure-packed positions in a hockey-mad city.
That’s partially why Maurice didn’t worry about giving him the hook in a game that got away.
“I never thought of taking him out in that game,” the coach said after the 8-2 loss to Ottawa. “I don’t worry about Vesa’s psyche, I don’t worry about his emotions. He’s built differently than a lot of other guys. I also didn’t want to see it get any more out of hand than it already did.”
Toskala’s teammates credited the goalie for keeping them in the playoff race.
“He’s played tremendous, especially going down the stretch there where we needed a whole bunch of wins to make the playoffs, he gave us a chance to win every night,” said Leafs centre Alex Steen. “He’s made some phenomenal saves for us to keep us in games and win us hockey games. He’s done what we needed him to do, for sure”.
Toskala was obtained with left-winger Mark Bell from San Jose on the first night of the NHL draft last June for three draft picks. He had never played more 38 games in an NHL season prior to joining the Leafs.
He essentially halved the first two post-lockout seasons in San Jose with the Sharks’ other goalie, Evgeni Nabokov. But the trade to Toronto provided him a chance to be the No. 1 man and he ran with it.
On many occasions, Toskala was the best player on the ice for the Leafs, providing the team with the kind of quality goaltending its been searching for since Ed Belfour was still a top-notch starter prior to the 2005-06 lockout.