Jeff O’Neill’s goal with 2:18 remaining gave the injury-riddled Leafs a 4-3 victory Tuesday night. Mats Sundin won a faceoff and O’Neill slammed in a rebound to give Toronto its first win in four games and only the fourth in its last 14. “It was kind of a weird game,” said O’Neill. “We had some penalties in the second and third and I didn’t get out a whole lot, but playing with Mats is pretty exciting.
“He’s one of those guys who makes the not-so-easy play with regularity.”
Minnesota’s franchise-record road losing streak reached nine games. The Wild are 4-13-1 on the road this season. Only Los Angeles and Phoenix have fewer points on opposition ice.
Sundin, John Pohl and Alex Steen also scored for the Leafs, while Kurtis Foster, Wes Walz and Brian Ralston scored for Minnesota.
Andrew Raycroft made 18 saves for the win, while Manny Fernandez stopped 32 in a losing effort.
“It was a good job by everyone,” Raycroft said. “We had a big effort as a team.
“We got down a couple times but battled through it. I had three or four heart attacks. Things didn’t completely go my way, but we got the win, and that’s the main thing.”
Boxing Day is the only day during the NHL schedule when visiting teams fly and play on the same day.
“Those games aren’t easy coming back from the turkey and you get up at five (in the morning) and you’re on the ice the same day,” Fernandez said. “It was a tough road game, but a lot of clubs in the NHL have to do it.”
Coach Jacques Lemaire said the same-day travel shouldn’t be a factor.
“Not at all,” Lemaire said. “It’s up to the players to take care of themselves and be ready for the first game after Christmas.”
A little bit of a lot of things hurt his club, he said.
“We were close, but we’ve been close a lot of games on the road,” said Lemaire. “We’re missing he right play at the right time, an effort from our top players, penalties that we shouldn’t take – all stuff like that that just kills us.”
It was 1-1 after 20 minutes and 2-2 after 40.
Foster shot through a forest of legs to give Minnesota a lead 2:53 into the game.
Sundin tied it on a power play when his intended pass from a corner struck Fernandez’s left leg and caromed into the net at 18:58. His 15th goal was the 1,200th point of his career.
Walz put the Wild up 2-1 at 11:47 of the second period. Hal Gill chased Branko Radivojevic behind the Leafs’ net and, when defence-mate Ian White aimlessly circled back there, too, Walz was all alone in front of Raycroft to redirect in Radivojevic’s pass.
Pohl made it 2-2 at 12:44 on a penalty shot. Brent Burns had knocked Pohl down from behind to set up the free shot.
“He’s playing really well,” coach Paul Maurice said of Pohl. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence and he seems to be getting faster. He’s fun to watch.”
Steen put Toronto up 3-2 when he jammed in a puck Fernandez bobbled in the crease during a power play at 3:49 of the third.
Ralston made it 3-3 on a power play at 9:32. Todd White made a long pass to the right of Raycroft, and Ralston redirected the puck in for his 17th goal.
On the winning goal, Sundin won the faceoff and Bryan McCabe got off a long shot. Fernandez made the save, and O’Neill slammed in the rebound for his 12th goal of the season.
“The way things have gone for us lately, not getting the results we wanted, we put ourselves in a position tonight to beat a good team,” said Leafs defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo. “We have guys stepping up and taking big roles of some of the guys who’ve been injured.”
Ralston lamented yet another road loss.
“We’ve been letting games like this slip away all season,” said Ralston. “We didn’t play good at all.
“We’ve been awful on the road. If we want to be in the playoffs, we can’t let games slip away. We have to be better if we want to be competing for the Stanley Cup. We’re going to be in a battle with Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver all the way till the end of the season so we’d better start winning some road games.”
The Wild haven’t won a road game since Nov. 17 in Nashville, when they eked through in a shootout.
“It’s been a while,” said Fernandez. “It’s certainly affecting us.
“If it’s in the back of our minds, I don’t know. Obviously it is. The older guys in the room have to pick it up. We’ve got to show the young guys the right way and, hopefully, we’ll get a bit of confidence back on the road.”
Notes: On power plays, Toronto was 2-for-4 and Minnesota was 1-for-4. . . . Toronto had a slight edge, 30-26, in hits, and the Leafs won 60 per cent of the faceoffs – including 9 of 16 by Sundin. . . . Toronto’s next game is Friday at Pittsburgh (TV, 7:30 p.m. ET). . . . The Leafs were missing Mike Peca (broken leg), Kyle Wellwood (hip flexor), Alexei Ponikarovsky (shoulder) and Nik Antropov (ankle). . . . Wild star Marian Gaborik, out with a groin injury, has missed 29 of his team’s 36 games. . . . Sundin now is one goal shy of Gilbert Perreault, who is 31st with 512, on the all-time goals list.