TORONTO – It was starting to look so bad for the Toronto Maple Leafs that coach Ron Wilson had thoughts of leaving the bench.
Without a victory in eight games and down 3-0 to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, he could hardly be blamed. But Wilson stuck with it and so did his players, and they were all rewarded with a wacky 5-4 comeback victory.
There were several strange occurrences, including a stretch of six straight power plays in the second period that allowed Toronto to erase a three-goal deficit. They scored on four of those opportunities—capped by a Nikolai Kulemin goal that stood as the winner even though starting goalie J.S. Giguere had to leave the game in the third period because of a minor groin injury.
“Strange game to say the least,” said Wilson. “I’m glad we won. It’s one of those kinds of games that when you look back on it, hopefully it puts an abrupt stop to the slide we’ve been in. We can use it for momentum.”
Toronto’s last victory hadn’t come since Oct. 26. Overall, the team had gone 1-8-3 since opening the season with four straight victories.
They looked headed for another loss after falling behind 3-0 just 12 minutes into the game. The third goal came just 10 seconds after Wilson had called a timeout, when Mikhail Grabovski softly threw the puck in front of his own goal and on to Martin Erat’s stick.
Needless to say, it wasn’t a happy time to be on the Leafs bench.
“I tried to leave the building, but contrary to the fire code I think they chained the doors,” said Wilson. “I couldn’t leave.”
A goal by Luke Schenn late in the period started to change the momentum, although Toronto fell behind by three once again after Marcel Goc scored on a short-handed breakaway early in the second period.
But the Leafs players refused to give up and were soon rewarded with a string of power plays that got them back in the game.
“There was a feeling we weren’t done yet,” said Schenn.
Kris Versteeg scored power-play goals 59 seconds apart while manning the point on two 5-on-3s before Grabovski and Kulemin also converted with a man advantage for Toronto (6-8-3). That gave them four power-play goals in a period after scoring just three in the previous eight games.
J.P. Dumont, Jordin Tootoo, Erat and Goc replied for Nashville (7-6-3).
There were absolutely no excuses to be found from the Predators afterwards even though they had eight total penalties called against them compared to two for Toronto.
“We gave them momentum by taking penalty after penalty after penalty,” said coach Barry Trotz. “When are we going to learn? You have a team down and out, you have them on the floor gasping for air and you let them off the mat. We stopped working, we stopped skating and therefore you take penalties.
“We deserved exactly what we got in the end.”
Added veteran forward Steve Sullivan: “We had them right where we wanted them—a fragile team down on the ropes and we didn’t take care of business.”
Giguere pulled himself from the game shortly after sliding across his crease to deny Cal O’Reilly on a golden opportunity in the final period. He has a history of groin and hip problems, and said he didn’t want to be selfish and play at less than 100 per cent.
In came backup Jonas Gustavsson, who made six saves in a little over 13 minutes of work.
“It was a different situation, but you can’t think so much,” said Gustavsson. “You just have to try to get warm and get right into it.”
There was a noticeable feeling of relief in the Maple Leafs dressing room after the game. The losing streak had been weighing heavily on the team—perhaps even more so than players had been acknowledging.
“That was a long three weeks,” said forward Clarke MacArthur.
Added Schenn: “(It felt like) three years I think. It’s miserable when you’re losing.”
Notes:Nazem Kadri earned his first NHL point with an assist on the Leafs first goal … MacArthur and Grabovski both finished with minus-4 ratings … Toronto iced the same lineup for a second straight game—forward Luca Caputi and defenceman Carl Gunnarsson were healthy scratches … Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf continues to recover from a laceration on his left leg and watched the game from the press box. Coach Ron Wilson expects him to start skating again next week … It was Nashville’s first visit to Air Canada Centre since Jan. 13, 2009 … Announced attendance was 19,069.