TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs are near the end of yet another cloudy season, but there was a silver lining in the play of a pair of promising rookies in Saturday night’s game against the visiting Montreal Canadiens.
Defenceman Anton Stralman, 21, and left winger Jiri Tlusty, 20, scored two goals apiece to provide all the offence in a 4-2 victory for the Leafs, who will miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
Stralman scored twice in just over two minutes in the middle of the second period to put Toronto on the board, while Tlusty notched a pair of goals, both on redirections, in the third.
“You hope to see that (flash) from your young players,” said Leafs coach Paul Maurice. “They both have a lot of growing to do and strength to gain, but you like to see the mind and hands working like that.”
For Stralman, a native of Tibro, Sweden, and playing his first season in North America, the two-goal effort gives him three markers in his past five games after he failed to score in his first 41 NHL contests.
Stralman has also played 21 games this season with the Leafs’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, racking up 11 assists but no goals.
Overall, he has three goals and eight points in 47 NHL games.
“It’s a good chance to show what I have for next year,” said Stralman of his performance against the Habs. He was named the game’s first star for his efforts.
Tlusty’s first goal of the night, the game-winner at 3:17 of the third period, was initially credited to right winger Nikolai Antropov, but was later changed after video replay showed the puck went in off Tlusty.
Antropov also set up Tlusty’s second marker, at 15:17 of the final frame, feeding the 6-foot, 209-pounder in the slot and watching as Tlusty deflected it past Habs goalie Jaroslav Halak.
“It’s always nice to see the young guys step up and get the job done,” said Antropov, who picked up three assists on a line with Tlusty and Leafs captain Mats Sundin.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to be playing with the best two guys on the team, Mats and Antropov, to show what I can do,” added Tlusty, the game’s second star.
Tlusty, with 10 goals on the season, has five goals in his past seven outings after needing 48 games to record his first five markers. The native of Slany, Czech Republic, began the 2007-08 season with the Marlies, but was recalled in late October. His one and only other two-goal game occurred in his first NHL appearance, a 5-2 win over Pittsburgh on Oct. 25.
Tlusty, who also collected an assist against Montreal, has 16 points in 55 NHL games this season.
While the two Leafs rookies share an offensive flair and a knack with the puck, their draft pedigrees are markedly different. Tlusty was the 13th overall pick in 2006, while Stralman, listed at 6-1 and 180 pounds, didn’t get selected until No. 216 in 2005.
Stralman’s first goal, at 7:25 of the middle frame, opened the scoring and was a seeing-eye wrist shot from the blueline that picked the top right corner behind Halak, who was being screened by Sundin and Habs defenceman Josh Gorges. Montreal’s Mathieu Dandenault tied the game less than a minute later, but Stralman re-ignited the home crowd just 70 seconds after that with a coast-to-coast rush and a low wrist shot past Halak at 9:33.
“Regardless of the goal, you like to see Stralman take the puck up the ice with speed,” Maurice said, “and to see Tlusty finish off a couple of plays.”