TORONTO – For two and a half periods, it looked like Steve Valiquette was going to do it to the Toronto Maple Leafs once again.
The New York Rangers backup goaltender entered into Saturday night’s game at Toronto with a career record of 3-0-0 against the Leafs, including one shutout and a stingy 1.29 goals-against average. And, with less than eight minutes remaining in the third period, the Rangers held a 2-0 lead and Valiquette could smell his 12th career NHL victory; perhaps even his fourth career shutout.
Then the wheels fell off.
Toronto scored five goals in five minutes and 21 seconds and a satisfying victory suddenly became a shocking defeat.
“It was bizarre, I don’t even know how to explain it,” said Valiquette, a native of the Toronto suburb Etobicoke. “I’m stunned, in disbelief. It just became an avalanche.”
Leafs rookie John Mitchell scored the first two goals of his career, including Toronto’s first of the game at 12:36 of the third while Jason Blake, Pavel Kubina and Dominic Moore (with the Leafs’ fifth and final goal, at 17:57) also put one past the 31-year-old Valiquette.
“We can definitely learn from this one, look at the video and see what happened,” he said.
The last time Toronto played the Rangers – at New York on Oct. 17 – Valiquette blanked the Leafs and earned a 1-0 shootout victory. Last season, he beat Toronto 3-2 in a shootout and also by a blowout 6-1 margin.
Valiquette has played for 13 teams in the NHL, AHL, ECHL and Russia since turning pro in 1998. He has been with the Rangers organization since 2003, although he played for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in the Russian League in 2005-06, and has been the full-time backup to Henrik Lundqvist since the start of last season.
Being the No. 2 guy behind a netminder who has been a Vezina Trophy candidate the past three seasons, however, means Valiquette doesn’t see a lot of action. He’s 3-1-0 lifetime against the Leafs, but just 8-6-3 against the rest of the NHL.
But it sounded like Rangers coach Tom Renney, who blamed New York’s penchant for turning the puck over in the neutral zone as the main culprit in his team’s third-period collapse, still has faith in his backup.
“As much as Steve played real well, we have to give him some help,” said Renney.