TORONTO – It was a move so stunning that it almost made the Toronto Maple Leafs forget they had no business being part of a shootout in the first place.
Mikhail Grabovski brought his teammates and the fans at Air Canada Centre to their feet on Thursday, pulling a complete spinorama while cutting across the top of the crease before beating St. Louis goaltender Ty Conklin.
It was easily one of the prettiest shootout goals scored in the NHL all season and it helped Toronto salvage a 6-5 victory after blowing a three-goal lead in the third period.
Grabovski is 3-for-5 lifetime in the tiebreaker and doesn’t use just one patented move. He scored a shootout goal on a 180-degree spin play last month in Washington and continues to amaze his teammates with what he comes up with.
“Again, he’s crazy,” said Tim Brent. “He’s unbelievable. That’ll be highlight of the night I’m sure and it should be. I’ve never seen it, he hasn’t done it in practice and it takes a lot of guts to do that stuff. He’s a pretty skilled guy.”
Added Tyler Bozak, who scored the shootout winner with a wrist shot: “I’m way too nervous to do stuff like that in a shootout.”
It should never have come to that for the Maple Leafs, who appeared to be in the clear after Phil Kessel scored his second goal of the night 1:15 into the third period. That gave Toronto a 5-2 lead.
But the Blues started clawing back with a strange goal by Brad Winchester that survived video review—Jonas Gustavsson ended up in the net along with the puck—before Eric Brewer’s point shot found an opening at 7:40. Matt D’Agostini completed the comeback at 13:21 after getting sent in alone and beating the Leafs goalie with a backhand deke.
“It was important for us to get a win today, but we need to be better,” said Kessel. “We had a 5-2 lead and we didn’t play well there. We need to bear down more and get our game in shape.”
Grabovski, Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong also scored in regulation for the Maple Leafs (15-20-4), who kick off a four-game road trip in Atlanta on Friday night.
Alex Steen and David Backes had the other goals for St. Louis (20-13-6).
Most of the Leafs watched Russia’s three-goal comeback against Canada in the gold-medal game at the world junior championship on Wednesday, and it gave them a sense of deja vu when St. Louis started climbing back a night later.
“Like you saw yesterday, if a banana peel’s on the ice you tend to step on it,” said Toronto coach Ron Wilson. “We couldn’t stop it. After the third goal, we had a TV timeout to talk about things and then the next goal, I called a timeout and talked about not moving our feet.
“Sometimes you let it out and you can’t get it back in.”
Added Bozak: “I’m sure maybe a couple guys thought about last night’s game. We’re like, ‘Oh wow, could this be happening to us too?'”
It’s been a tough month for Gustavsson, who had lost five of six starts heading in. The Monster also watched third-stringer James Reimer get back-to-back starts this week in place of injured starter J.S. Giguere.
His biggest play of the night was covering a loose puck with his blocker late in the second period because it was impossible to tell if Jay McClement’s shot crossed the goal-line. As a result, the Leafs maintained a two-goal lead, and they needed it.
“In the end, it was enough,” said Gustavsson. “We showed in the shootout that we have some self-confidence there and some great moves.”
Jaroslav Halak started the night in goal for St. Louis, but was pulled for only the second time this season after surrendering four goals on 19 shots.
He wasn’t helped much a defence that looked vulnerable to Toronto’s forecheck during the second period. Clarke MacArthur worked the puck out to Grabovski for his goal at 8:19 before Armstrong took a hit while setting up Versteeg at 10:46.
Halak’s night ended after Kessel intercepted a pass and came in alone, beating the Slovak with a wrist shot at 12:15.
“(It was) just a pause for the team mostly,” said Blues coach Davis Payne. “It’s a situation there where we can give Conklin a chance to see if he can’t stop the tide and give our a guys a chance to regroup their thoughts.”
The move paid some dividends for a St. Louis team that is in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race and can use every point it can get.
The Maple Leafs were thrilled to have some positive vibes as they set out on the road. It would have been tough flight to Atlanta had they not managed to pull out the victory.
“I think it would have been a little bit quieter and not much going on,” said Bozak. “It’s obviously nice to get that win. … We feel good about that.”
Notes:Wilson said that Reimer will “probably” get the start against the Thrashers … Grabovski has 10 goals in his past 13 games … Brett Lebda replaced Carl Gunnarsson in the Toronto lineup … Injuries have hit the Blues hard—Andy McDonald, David Perron and T.J. Oshie all remain on the sidelines … Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo both played their first game at Air Canada Centre since Toronto dealt them to the Blues in November 2008 … It was the 3,000th home game in Maple Leafs history … Announced attendance was 19,283.