Maple Leafs Turn Away Canadiens 3-2 in Shootout

Maple Leafs Turn Away Canadiens 3-2 in Shootout TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs believe they're starting
to build the foundation for better times ahead.

Several of the youngsters stepped up again as the Maple Leafs
dispatched another playoff-bound opponent, beating the Montreal
Canadiens 3-2 in a shootout on Saturday night.

John Mitchell
had the shootout winner, Phil Kessel scored his team-leading 28th
goal and Jonas Gustavsson won his fifth straight start for
Toronto. Those players are all 25 or younger — as are many others on
the current roster.

"We're seeing that some of these kids, they
look like they can play," Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said.
"They're playing in live-fire situations right now against teams that
are really battling. The points are huge for these teams we're playing.

"It's
their first time getting those opportunities — it's not like you get
to a point where you've been mathematically eliminated and all of a
sudden some of your guys show up and relax and start playing. These guys
are basically playing for their jobs and it's fun to see how hard they
compete."

Toronto has won six of seven and is playing its best
hockey of the season. Four of those wins came in extra time, an area
where the Leafs struggled mightily early.

Mitchell and Nikolai
Kulemin
each scored in the shootout against Montreal's Jaroslav
Halak
, who had allowed just one shootout goal on 16 attempts coming
into the game. Gustavsson turned aside two of the three Canadiens
shooters.

The rookie goalie has been alternating starts with J.S.
Giguere
and is looking more comfortable with each passing week.

"I
think it's a good setup for me," Gustavsson said. "It's perfect."

Kessel
and Tyler Bozak scored in regulation for the Maple Leafs, who
are 29th in the overall NHL standings of 30 teams.

Brian
Gionta
had both goals for Montreal.

The Canadiens squandered a
chance to leapfrog Ottawa and Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference
standings. They entered on a six-game winning streak and would have
moved into fifth place with another victory.

"We just weren't on
our game," Gionta said. "We weren't sharp enough. A team like that,
they're going to take advantage of that and we were playing catch up the
whole game because of that."

They'll need to be better with an
important stretch looming. The Canadiens host the struggling Senators on
Monday before playing at division-leading Buffalo on Wednesday.

The
score was tied 1-1 when Kessel scored the nicest goal, wiring a wrist
shot past Halak from the top of the circle at 18:15 of the second. The
Leafs winger has six goals in six games and is closing in on the 30-goal
mark for the second straight season. He has 28.

"He's such a
good player and finds the openings so well," Bozak said of his linemate.
"You see with his shot tonight, he can score from the outside, as well.
Wherever he's got the puck there's a good chance it's going in."

Toronto
was nearly undone with penalty trouble. The Leafs killed off a
four-minute high-sticking call to Jamie Lundmark that stretched
into the third period, but surrendered the tying goal after Fredrik
Sjostrom
went off for tripping.

Gionta was standing in the
high slot and tipped Scott Gomez's shot behind Gustavsson with
less than seven minutes to play in regulation. That set the stage for
overtime — the fourth time that's happened in five meetings between the
teams this season.

"We're a confident group in here," Mitchell
said. "We're young, we're having a lot of fun. Overtime and the shootout
were kind of our nemesis earlier in the season, but things have turned
for us in the past few weeks. We're just going to ride this."

Wilson
believes things started to change when general manager Brian Burke
acquired defenseman Dion Phaneuf from the Calgary Flames before
the Olympic break. He is a strong personality and has had a positive
impact on the dressing room.

"We have better starts and a lot of
that has to do with Dion being very vocal in the room before the game,"
Wilson said. "It's led to some of the young kids who believe they're
going to be around for a while to join in. It's a young aggressive group
in there before a game.

"They're fired up when they go on the
ice."

Notes
Kulemin had two assists. … Ben Maxwell
and Paul Mara were scratched for Montreal. … Luca
Caputi
and Jeff Finger sat out for the Maple Leafs. …
Toronto forward Christian Hanson played in his 21st game of the
season and has yet to score a goal.   

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