TORONTO - Things looked bleak for the Maple Leafs, coming off a losing performance in St. Louis that coach Randy Carlyle termed "brain-dead" and with the league-leading Chicago Blackhawks in town.
But the form sheet was thrown out the window Saturday as Joffrey Lupul and Peter Holland each scored twice and combined with linemate Mason Raymond for 11 points to lift Toronto to a commanding 7-3 win over the Stanley Cup champions.
Toronto lost 6-3 to the Blues on Thursday with the scoreline flattering the losers. Toronto had played a strong game the previous night but was still beaten 3-1 by the visiting Los Angeles Kings. A 5-2 home defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins started a three-game slide.
"We really felt we needed a win," Lupul said of the Chicago contest. "It's a hard stretch for us, a lot of games in a short stretch of time so Saturday night at home with a day of rest, we came into the game feeling like it was pretty close to a must-win for us. Things were kind of starting to snowball the other way."
Tied 1-1 after the first period, Toronto outscored Chicago 4-1 in the second to pull ahead for its first win in regulation time since Nov. 19, a 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders.
The victory also snapped an eight-game losing streak to Chicago that dated back to February 2003.
Jerry D'Amigo, Nikolai Kulemin and Phil Kessel also scored for Toronto (17-14-3) before a season-high announced attendance of 19,603 at the Air Canada Center despite a cold, snowy night.
Toronto outshot the opposition for just the fifth time this season, holding a 32-28 edge on the night.
It was a welcome sharing on offence for the Leafs, who have had to count on their top line of Kessel, Nazem Kadri and James Van Riemsdyk in recent weeks.
Lupul finished with two goals and two assists while Raymond had four assists and Holland two goals and an assist on a breakout night for the newly assembled Leafs' second line.
Patrick Kane, with two, and Brandon Saad replied for Chicago (23-7-5), whose league-best offence sputtered on the night.
The Blackhawks had arrived riding a three-game win streak during which they had outscored the opposition 19-6. The Hawks were also 9-0-2 against Eastern Conference opposition.
"We were not very good," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. "They were much better than us. We got what we deserved tonight. We still got ourselves back in the game, 1-1 at the start of the second period and put ourselves in a decent spot.... But basically we got what we deserved because we weren't ready to play.”
The Leafs came into the game in a nose dive, with just two regulation wins in their last 19 outings. It was water under the bridge as they welcomed the Hawks with a season-high seven-goal scoring spree.
The lack of pushback in the St. Louis performance had been a particular low for the Leafs.
"They weren't very proud of our performance. They knew we didn't do a lot of things that we set out to do," Carlyle said of the Blues game.
"I thought our hockey club responded the way they needed to respond. They took responsibility for our actions and that's a good sign. The most encouraging thing for us tonight was our work ethic and we stuck to out system and played it."
The game was Carlyle's 100th as Leafs coach, improving his record at the Toronto helm to 49-40-11.
Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf returned to the lineup after serving a two-game suspension for boarding Boston defenceman Kevan Miller. The Leafs' revolving door kept turning, however, as forward David Clarkson was handed a two-game ban earlier in the day for an illegal hit to the head of St. Louis forward Vladimir Sobotka.
Finnish rookie Antti Raanta got the start again for Chicago in the absence of the injured Corey Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin. He was pulled from his eighth career NHL game with the score 5-2 after two periods in favour of Kent Simpson, a 21-year-old from Edmonton making his NHL debut.
"I think you could say that Chicago's goalies had a rough night ... and you have to take advantage of that when it comes your way," said Carlyle.
It was a horrific start for the Blackhawks, who drew three straight penalties in the first period. But some indiscipline by the home team later in the period evened the score.
Toronto was on its second power-play before Chicago got its first shot on net, some seven minutes into the game. Holland made the Hawks pay for the Andrew Shaw tripping call, tapping in a Lupul feed across the crease after a nice pass by Raymond at 7:14.
"Not the start we wanted, getting the penalties and getting down a goal, then probably thinking too much offence as the game went on," said Kane. "The start wasn't good, especially the first 10 minutes. Three penalties kind of takes you right out of the game.
"We tried to fight back and get ourselves into it but it was too little too late."
Toronto faced a 58-second five-on-three after Raymond was called for tripping behind the Chicago goal while killing off a penalty to Holland.
The Blackhawks scored 29 seconds later when a sprawling Phaneuf redirected Kane's pass from the side of the net past Jonathan Bernier into the goal at 16:14. It was his 18th goal of the season and marked the eighth straight game Chicago has scored on the power play.
Kane, the league's first star in the month of November, has collected points in eight straight games and 20 of his last 21.
Van Riemsdyk could have made it 2-1 near the end of the period but, with a good portion of the Chicago goal empty after a pretty passing sequence, he couldn't connect on a Kessel feed that took a nasty bounce.
Toronto had the first five shots of the game but the shot count was tied at 11-11 after 20 minutes.
D'Amigo made it 2-1 on the Leafs' 13th shot just 42 seconds into the second period when he tucked in a Kulemin rebound that dropped out of Raanta's glove. It was the first goal of his six-game NHL career.
Both the puck and D'Amigo's stick will be displayed in a frame soon.
"You guys can't see it but I'm just going crazy inside here now," said D'Amigo.
A Chicago goal minutes later was called off for being directed into the goal by a Hawks hand (and then Phaneuf's stick).
Holland scored his second at 12:09 of the second period, left to finish all alone after taking a nice pass from Raymond.
Kane replied at 13:30, snapping a wrist shot past Bernier after a Toronto turnover in the neutral zone. But Kulemin restored the Leafs' two-goal advantage at 14:36, on a low shot from a Jay McClement feed.
Lupul increased the lead to 5-2 on the power play, tipping in a Jake Gardiner shot from the point for his ninth of the season at 17:08.
Simpson gave up a goal on his first shot when Lupul, just 28 seconds in, beat him from the faceoff dot after doing some good digging behind the goal.
Holland had a chance at his hat trick but shot wide on a breakaway. Seconds later, Saad pulled one back for Chicago with a tip-in at 7:38 for his 12th of the season.
Kessel made it 7-3 at 8:35 with a quick shot from the slot for his 17th of the season.
Toronto heads to Pittsburgh next for a game Monday. The Hawks return home to host Los Angeles on Sunday.