RALEIGH, N.C. – The Toronto Maple Leafs staked their claim to 29th in the NHL.
The Carolina Hurricanes, meanwhile, are all alone in last place. Jason Blake scored on a power play with 8:24 left and Jonas Gustavsson made 34 saves to help the Maple Leafs win for the second time in 14 games this season, 3-2 over the Hurricanes on Friday night in a matchup of the NHL’s two worst teams.
John Mitchell and Nikolai Kulemin also scored for Toronto, which has earned points in its last six games.
“We’re starting to move in the right direction,” Blake said. “Tonight was a good effort. Obviously, Gustavsson made some key saves at key times that were game-changers. It was a good team effort.”
Brandon Sutter and Sergei Samsonov scored for Carolina, off to its worst start in franchise history. The Hurricanes (2-10-3) are winless in their last 11 games.
“There are no options,” Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. “You just have to persevere in these times.”
Blake scored on a wrist shot from the slot. With Rod Brind’Amour off for holding, Blake’s shot ripped off the right post before ricocheting into the net.
“It was a relief,” Blake said.
Sutter opened the scoring midway through the first period. Brind’Amour kicked the puck toward Sutter, who backhanded it past Gustavsson’s glove from the slot.
The Hurricanes took a two-goal advantage a little less than 10 minutes later when Gustavsson couldn’t control Andrew Alberts’ shot from the point, allowing Samsonov to clean up the rebound in front of the net.
“Whenever they scored, we seemed to sag at that point – maybe feeling sorry for ourselves,” Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. “We have to get mad at some point. I said to the team, ‘We’ve only got one win in 13 games. When’s somebody going to get mad?”‘
Toronto tied it early in the second.
Mitchell scored first when he fired a slapshot from just inside the blue-line past Cam Ward, who was screened by Brind’Amour. Six minutes later, Alexei Ponikarovsky set up Kulemin with a nice centring pass from the corner, allowing Kulemin to tip the puck through Ward’s legs.
Gustavsson made impressive stops midway through the third period to keep the score tied before preserving Toronto’s lead in the dying seconds with a flurry of tough saves.
“To be down 2-0 and the way that’s gone for us this year – I think that showed a lot of determination,” Wilson said. “I’m proud of the guys that they didn’t give up.”
In addition to last place in the overall standings, Carolina also has scored the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference. It hasn’t scored on its last 25 power plays.
The Hurricanes were without two of their leading scorers in Eric Staal and Ray Whitney. They are sidelined by upper-body injuries.
“Obviously frustrating when you’re not winning,” Sutter said. “We played well, so we have to look at the positives.”
Notes: The Maple Leafs have given up the first goal in 13 of 14 games. … Zach Boychuk played his first game of the season for Carolina. He had a breakaway in the second period, but couldn’t convert. … Carolina has been outscored 22-9 in the second period.