TORONTO – A little boy named Joey is in for a big surprise.
Mark Bell scored his first goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs, helping them beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 Saturday night, and said afterwards that he’d be giving the puck to his five-year-old nephew in St. Paul’s, Ont.
“He’s a little guy fighting for his life every day,” said Bell. “He wears my jersey every game.
“He’s got a home and away jersey. He’ll love it.”
Joey, the son of Bell’s sister, has been in a wheelchair his whole life.
“They gave him four weeks to live and he’s five now and will be six soon,” said his uncle. “It puts things in perspective when you go home and see the little guy. I go see him every chance I get.”
Bell scored his first NHL goal against Patrick Roy six years ago. His career best is 25 goals in 2005-2006 with Chicago. He came to Toronto along with goalie Vesa Toskala in an off-season trade with San Jose. He was looking for a fresh start.
Bell was arrested last September and pleaded no contest to criminal drunk driving. He’s due to spend up to six months in a California jail after the season. He sat out the first 15 games, while under league suspension and didn’t score in his first 11 outings with his new team.
“This is right up there,” he said of his first goal in the blue and white. “Scoring a goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs is a pretty special thing.”
Jason Blake, with his first goal since Oct. 18, Nikolai Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky, with an empty-netter with 58 seconds left, also scored for the Leafs, who would have won by a wider margin if they’d cashed in more of their umpteen scoring chances.
Mats Sundin set up Bell’s goal and the assist stretched his consecutive-games point streak from the start of the season to 15, breaking an 83-year-old Toronto record. Babe Dye went 14 games in 1924-25.
Toskala earned the goaltending victory. The Finn has emerged as the team’s No. 1 goalie after alternating with Andrew Raycroft earlier on. This was Toskala’s third straight start and sixth in the last seven games.
“(Toskala) played well,” said Penguins star Sidney Crosby. “I think we could’ve done a better job of getting some traffic in front but he made some big saves – a breakaway, some odd-man rushes – so you definitely have to give him some credit.”
Ryan Malone and Erik Christensen scored third-period goals for the Penguins after they’d fallen behind 3-0.
Toronto outshot Pittsburgh 41-32.
The Penguins flew in after a 4-1 home win over Dallas on Friday night and didn’t have as much jump as the Leafs.
Bell opened the scoring with his first goal since last April 5 when he played for San Jose. Pittsburgh defenceman Mark Eaton screened goalie Dany Sabourin.
“Mats gave me a great pass and I tried to release it as fast as I could and get it on net,” said Bell. “I’ve been kind of snake-bit the last couple of games around the net, so I was really relieved to get that one.”
Blake had scored only two goals on 115 shots, sixth-most in the league, before beating Sabourin at 2:01 of the second period for his first goal in 19 games. Kyle Wellwood carried the puck on a 2-on-0 rush and generously passed, so Blake could put one in.
“It hasn’t been the start I was looking for coming into Toronto,” said Blake. “It felt great that one finally went in for me.
“It’s not that I haven’t been getting my chances. That’s the frustrating part, but my goal is to stay positive, work hard, keep my chin up and keep shooting.”
Crosby fell in the middle of the second period when he was tripped by Toskala, who was penalized, and was grimacing in pain on the bench. Crosby shook it off and was on the ice for his next shift.
“It’s all right,” he said. “I twisted my foot a bit, but, other than that, it’s fine. It was my ankle. Just a bruise.”
Antropov got credit for his 10th goal when a Bryan McCabe wrist shot caromed off him and past Sabourin at 14:09 of the second period. Antropov had gone 10 games without a goal.
This one came on a power play, ending a 0-for-19 Leafs drought including 0-4 in this game.
Malone got credit for his eighth goal at 8:15 of the third period when Toskala kicked out a Colby Armstrong lob only to have the puck come right back at him off the onrushing Malone.
Christensen scored on a power play at 17:55 after Sundin was sent off for hooking Evgeni Malkin. The puck rolled up Toskala’s arm and dropped over his shoulder and into the net for Christensen’s third goal of the season.
Crosby got an assist to avoid being held without a point for only the third time this season.
“We had some chances to tie it up in the third, but I don’t think we gave ourselves a good chance in the first two periods,” Crosby said.
Toronto has won two in a row for the first time since Oct. 27.
Notes: – Toronto was 1-for-6 and Pittsburgh 1-for-4 on power plays . . . Ponikarovsky returned after missing two games with a sore groin . . . C Jiri Tlusty missed a fourth straight game with a bruised collarbone . . . LW Bates Battaglia was a healthy scratch for the seventh time in the last eight games . . . D Pavel Kubina, who has missed nine games with a damaged knee ligament, should be ready to play within a week . . . RW Mark Recchi was a healthy scratch for the fifth game in a row as the Penguins try to trade him . . . LW Gary Roberts has only one goal (Oct. 17) for the Penguins in 24 games . . . D Sergei Gonchar, who was leading all NHL defencemen with 24 points, sat out for the second night in a row with a strained groin muscle . . . The Leafs stay home to play Nashville on Tuesday, go to New York to face the Rangers on Thursday and are back home against Boston on Saturday . . . The Penguins are at home against Phoenix on Monday and then hit the road for games in Edmonton on Wednesday, Calgary on Thursday and Vancouver on Saturday.