EDMONTON – It was close, but the Toronto Maple Leafs have stopped their fall in the Eastern Conference standings.
Tim Connolly scored in overtime as the Maple Leafs snapped a four-game losing skid with a 4-3 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday.
After the Oilers failed to convert on a three-on-one rush, the Leafs turned around and went up ice with similar advantage as Joffrey Lupul found Connolly with a nice pass for a goal 1:39 into overtime.
Lupul, Matthew Lombardi and Jake Gardiner also scored for the Maple Leafs (29-23-6) who were in seventh place in the East before the slide began. They seemed to be in danger of slipping out of a playoff spot altogether, but instead moved three points up on Washington for eighth place.
“That was a huge win for us,” Gardiner said. “You don’t lose four games in a row all that often and when you do it’s not a great feeling. That fifth game means a lot and I’m happy we got it.”
After being outscored 10-1 in their two previous outings, including a 5-1 loss in Calgary the night previous, the Leafs were relieved to find their footing again.
“That last game was a tough one to swallow,” said Leafs defenceman Cody Franson, who had two assists. “This was a big game for us as a result. It was kind of a must-have two points after the way our last four have gone. We battled hard to get the points tonight.”
Ben Eager, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle replied for the Oilers (22-28-6), who saw a four-game home winning streak come to an end.
“We had a slow start but came back hard and played a good game,” Eager said. “We had our chances to win, but unfortunately we couldn’t convert.”
“When we’ve got multiple lines going like we did tonight, we’re a dangerous team,” added Eberle. “We need that to happen more often.”
It didn’t take the Maple Leafs long to get their many supporters at Rexall Place going as they scored on the game’s first shot just 41 seconds in. Lupul used defender Ladislav Smid as a screen and sent his 23rd of the season through the legs of goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.
Less than a minute later it was a 2-0 Toronto lead as Franson sprung Lombardi in on a breakaway and he sent a backhand shot past Khabibulin, causing Edmonton to take a time out before the game was two minutes old.
The tactic paid off quickly as Edmonton cut the lead to one goal at the 2:32 mark when Lennart Petrell stole a puck from behind the net and fed it in front to Eager, who drilled a shot past Toronto starter James Reimer.
Tempers flared shortly after, as Eager unloaded on Mike Brown in a one-sided scrap.
The first period remained wide open but stayed at 2-1 through 20 minutes.
Edmonton tied the game 2-2 eight minutes into the second when Sam Gagner threw a puck on net that went through Dion Phaneuf’s legs to Hall, who tipped in his 20th of the season.
Khabibulin had to come up big to keep it a tied game with five minutes left in the second when Cam Barker coughed the puck up in front of the Edmonton net and the Oiler goalie bailed him out with a big save in tight on Tyler Bozak.
Edmonton outshot Toronto 13-3 in the second period.
The Oilers almost went up 3-2 in the opening minute of the third but Ales Hemsky rang his second shot off the post.
The Leafs regained the lead seven minutes into the third period on just the second power play of the entire game when Gardiner got everything on a shot from the point to make it 3-2.
However, Edmonton would knot the game back up with four minutes on the clock as Eberle fought off David Steckel and picked the top corner on Reimer for his 25th of the year to send the game to the eventual overtime session.
“They were coming at us full speed but we gathered ourselves together in the third period,” said Toronto head coach Ron Wilson. “I was happy that we got it to overtime.
“We did a lot of good things tonight and rebounded off of how we played in Calgary.”
The Oilers play again on Friday when they host Colorado. The Leafs close out their three-game trip in Vancouver on Saturday.
Notes: It was the second and final of two meetings this season. The Maple Leafs doubled up the Oilers 6-3 at Air Canada Centre earlier in February.…Oilers D Corey Potter has missed the last few practices and is sidelined with a groin issue, paving the way for Barker’s return to the line-up.…First overall draft pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is skating but has yet to begin full practices.…Toronto D Carl Gunnarsson (ankle) is on injured reserve. His place was taken by recent call-up Keith Aulie.…Leafs D Luke Schenn was a surprise healthy scratch after taking the pre-game skate.