TORONTO – “Fire Ferguson, Fire Ferguson.”
Even with the Leafs ahead, pockets of fans in two far-flung corners of Air Canada Centre started up the chant in the third period. General manager John Ferguson’s job was safe on this night, however, as his Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 5-4 to end a five-game losing streak Tuesday. Head coach Paul Maurice was relieved as Ferguson with the outcome.
“It’s a win and we’re taking it,” he said. “With all that was going on (surrounding the team), with all due respect buffoonery, getting back to just playing hockey … in some ways it becomes easier.”
Tomas Kaberle, Chad Kilger, Matt Stajan, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Ian White scored for the Leafs.
“We’ve been struggling and it was nice to see a couple of bounces finally go our way,” said White. “We expected a couple of wins a lot sooner than this but we’ve been working hard the last couple of games and we worked hard for this one and got the result we wanted.”
It was only Toronto’s third win in regulation time in its last 14 games. A freefall to 14th in the Eastern Conference have prompted calls for Ferguson’s dismissal, Maurice’s firing and the rebuilding of a lineup tumbling out of contention for a playoff spot.
The Leafs will try to win a second consecutive game for the first time in more than a month when they play in Boston on Thursday night.
Sergei Samsonov, Erik Cole, Andrew Ladd and Rod Brind’Amour scored for the flu-riddled ‘Canes, who lost their third in a row and fourth in five games.
After a scoreless first period, there were five goals in the second.
Kaberle got his seventh of the season at 3:51 with Mike Commodore in the penalty box. The Czech defenceman skated into the middle of Carolina’s zone and lifted a high wrist shot past screened goalie Michael Leighton.
Carolina responded with a power-play goal of its own at 7:37. Cole slid a cross-crease pass and Samsonov pushed the puck into the open side of the net for his first goal of the season. John Pohl was serving an interference penalty against goaltender Vesa Toskala.
Kilger gave Toronto a 2-1 lead at 9:16. He had the puck to the right of Leighton and made a 90-degree turn before pulling the puck to his backhand and lifting it under the crossbar for his eighth goal.
Cole tied it at 13:00 when he sped around Kilger to the right of Toskala, cut to his right and slipped the puck into the open side of the net for his 11th. Toskala made no attempt to poke-check Cole, who must have caught the Finn off guard with his quick change in direction.
Stajan put the Leafs up 3-2 at 18:55 on another power play. Anton Stralman’s blast from the point missed the net and the puck caromed into the crease behind Leighton. Stajan scooted into the crease and pushed it into the open net for his 10th. For the second time, Commodore cringed in the penalty box.
That was it for Leighton. Cam Ward went in for the third period.
Ladd tied it 3-3 at 1:54 when he skated with the puck into the middle of the zone and shot just before being checked by White. Toskala made a save with his left leg and the puck rebounded back onto Ladd’s stick with Toskala out of position. It was Ladd’s fifth.
Ponikarovsky swung at a bouncing puck in front of Ward and it trickled through the goalie’s legs at 5:06. Dennis Seidenberg’s penalty expired one second before Ponikarovsky got his long-awaited 12th. It was his first point in 13 games and first goal in 14.
“I think it was the longest streak for me with no scoring,” said the relieved left-winger. “I’ve been working hard and, eventually, you get one.”
White’s low blue-line shot went through traffic and Ward’s legs at 8:20, and the defenceman had his third goal of the season.
“I think it went off somebody,” said White. “There wasn’t a whole lot on it so (Ward) couldn’t have seen it.” Brind’Amour’s 16th with nine seconds left made the finish a lot closer on the scoreboard than it was on the ice.
Toronto had a 36-25 shots advantage.
There was no late-game Leafs collapse this time – mainly because of solid work by the defence corps. Stralman was named first star in what Maurice described as “his best game as a Leaf” and Kaberle played “exceptionally well” in the coach’s view.
Nik Antropov limped off the ice favouring his left leg with 12 minutes left and went to the dressing room. X-rays were negative and he was to be re-evaluated Wednesday.
With Atlanta winning, Carolina fell out of first place in the Southeast Division.
“We haven’t been playing great but, the good thing is, other than a couple teams nobody else has been either,” said Commodore.
Cory Stillman was a touch more critical of himself and his teammates.
“We got better as the game went on, but it’s unacceptable,” he said. “In the second period, we gave up three goals and you can’t afford to do that at this level.”
“They were a desperate team (but) so are we. We haven’t had the best record as of late and this was a game we needed to win.”
Notes: Toronto was 2-for-5 and Carolina was 1-for-3 on power plays. … Kilger had a team-high six hits. … Pavel Kubina had a team-high 26:21 ice time. … F Alex Steen, down with a flu, missed a game for the first time this season. … LW Ray Whitney returned to the Carolina lineup after missing three games due to illness. … D Bryan McCabe, who broke his left hand Dec. 15, is to resume skating by the end of the week. … Whatever happened to Darcy Tucker? He was ineffective again. Maurice started the game with the veteran forward on the first line but Tucker was soon dropped to a lesser unitl. He didn’t get a shot on goal. … Toronto’s special teams play has been abysmal. The Leafs entered the game ranked 27th on power plays and 26th in penalty killing.