|Maple Leafs||3||0||2||0||0 (0-2)||5|
Trailing by three goals after 20 minutes, 4-2 early in the third and allowing a go-ahead goal with 30 seconds left to Toronto, it appeared the Carolina Hurricanes were headed for their most disappointing loss of what has been so far a season of major disappointments.
But whether it was Tuomo Ruutu (a career high four assists) or Tim Gleason (a career-best two goals in the third period) or Erik Cole (who sent the game into overtime with a desperation goal with 2.9 ticks left on the clock) the Canes somehow found a way for forge out a 6-5 shootout victory against the Maple Leafs to sneak out of last place in the Eastern Conference.
The Canes now have points in each of their last four games – all overtime or shootout contests – after a horrific start to the season. Carolina registered a season-high 45 shots and got shootout goals from Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen while Manny Legace shut the door on the Leafs for the two points.
“We’ve got a lot of disappointment in the locker room where we’re at (in the standings) but they haven’t splintered and they haven’t quit on each other,” Paul Maurice said. “I don’t think it’s as important what the coach says in between periods as what is said once he walks out of the room by the players. Our players are still fighting, and they believe and they’re competing.”
After cutting a three-goal deficit to 3-2 entering the third, the Canes allowed a power-play goal early in the period to fall behind by two before Gleason scored goals four minutes apart to tie the score with 8:04 left.
With a host of injuries, Gleason has been given some power-play time and he’s taken advantage with four goals this season. Entering 2009-10, the defenseman had just seven career goals in 332 games, including zero in 70 games last season.
“I try to do my job every night and my first thought process is just to play good defense and keep the pucks out of the net,” Gleason said. “I think I can add to the offense a little bit by playing smart and know when to shoot it and jump into the play.”
“He has always been our sniper, he has just been hiding somewhere,” Ruutu joked when asked about Gleason’s goals.
It appeared Gleason’s two third-period goals would send the game into overtime, but Niclas Wallin was picked off by one of the referees down low, which allowed for the Leafs to center the puck in front in the waning moments and score what was a deflating goal with 30 seconds left.
After a timeout, Legace was pulled for an extra attacker and Cole became the hero when the puck squirted free and he hammered it home to tie it at 5-5.
“In the past we would have just shut it down and the game would have been over,” Gleason said of the Toronto goal in the final half-minute of regulation. “That’s the difference tonight. We showed confidence and character at the end.”
“As long as there is time we knew we could score; we kept believing,” added Ruutu. “Hopefully we can build on this.”
Trailing 3-0 after one, the Canes mounted a hard charge in the second but had nothing to show for it until Stephane Yelle scored his first goal in 31 games, diving for a loose puck that Chad LaRose had put on net with 3:13 left in the period.
Carolina didn’t wait long to strike again as Matt Cullen broke his 11-game streak without a goal, snapping a shot from a sharp angle off the back of goalie Jonas Gustavsson 43 seconds after the Yelle goal.
It was one of the best second periods of the year for a team that has struggled in the middle parts of games, being outscored 26-16 this season in the second before getting two against the Maple Leafs and outshooting them 17-4 to gain momentum heading into the third.
The Maple Leafs had led after the first period just twice in their first 19 games with only 10 first-period goals. But Toronto struck three times in the opening 20 minutes on 17 shots in a role reversal of the meeting here 13 days ago when the Canes jumped out to a two-goal lead.
The first Toronto goal came just 1:01 into the game as Joe Corvo turned the puck over as he was being checked skating from behind the net. The Maple Leafs then tacked two more goals on in the final 5:39 of the period to send the Canes reeling in a battle of the last-placed teams in the Eastern Conference.
“I hope it’s a win like this that makes us recognize just how tough it is to play in this league and what it takes every night,” Cole said. “This is how hard we’re going to have to play and how hard we’re going to have to compete to be successful.”
NOTES: The Canes have allowed at least three goals in a period 11 times so far this season … Yelle’s last goal came on March 3, 2009. … Ruutu has eight points in his last five games. … Jokinen has a three-game point streak. … Eric Staal missed his eighth straight game with an injury. The Canes are 2-4-2 without their All-Star center. … Jokinen is now 26-for-47 on shootout in his career, while Ruutu is 8-for-16 with four game deciding goals. … Corvo played a season-high 33:21 – his third straight game of more than 30 minutes.