Chad Kilger scored twice Tuesday as Toronto beat the Carolina Hurricanes 6-1 and gained two valuable points in the Eastern Conference standings. Boyd Devereaux, Pavel Kubina, Yanic Perreault and Alexei Ponikarovsky also scored for Toronto (37-29-10), which has won six straight games at Air Canada Centre for the first time all season.
Eric Staal replied for the Hurricanes (38-30-8).
Starting the night 11th in the conference and trailing Carolina by two points, the Maple Leafs viewed this as a must-win game and it showed in their urgency from the start of the game.
Devereaux opened the scoring 43 seconds in when he beat Carolina starter Cam Ward through the legs with a weak shot. It was the quickest goal Toronto had scored all season.
Staal tied it for the Hurricanes just over a minute later, but it didn’t stay that way for long.
The Leafs continued to carry the play and Kubina put them ahead for good at 14:31 with some help from Ward. The Toronto defenceman hammered a shot from the point that was trickling in before Ward accidentally swiped the puck into his own goal.
Kilger made it 3-1 a little over three minutes later when he wired a shot over Ward’s glove on a solo rush up the left wing. It was a tough opening period for the 23-year-old goalie, who was the playoff MVP during Carolina’s run to the Stanley Cup last spring.
It didn’t get any better for him in the second.
Kilger made it 4-1 at 7:17 by sweeping a fat rebound behind the Carolina goalie before Perreault was sent in on a breakaway and beat Ward with a nice move to make it 5-1 at 11:18.
Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette promptly inserted backup John Grahame. This one was out of reach and the Hurricanes would need a rested Ward for their game Wednesday in Philadelphia.
Ponikarovsky scored at 5:21 of the third period by eluding Grahame’s poke-check and sliding the puck into the empty goal behind him. It was 6-1 and there was no collapse coming for the home team.
The 19,559 in attendance celebrated loudly as some fans in a private box unravelled a giant bedsheet that read: “We believe.”
Indeed, Toronto’s post-season dreams are very much alive.
Notes: Perreault’s goal was the 500th point of his career . . . Hurricanes defenceman Glen Wesley left the game in the second period with a leg injury . . . Leafs forward Kyle Wellwood only played one shift in the second period . . . Toronto’s Jeff O’Neill was a healthy scratch for a second straight game after being held pointless in 12 straight before that . . . Leafs captain Mats Sundin failed to score for a sixth straight game. He remains one goal back of Darryl Sittler for the career franchise record.