Toronto Maple Leafs Phil Oreskovic, right, celebrates with teammate Ian White, centre, and Nikolai Kulemin, of Russia, after scoring against Washington Capitals during second period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday March 24, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
TORONTO - It's hard to imagine a more unlikely candidate stealing the theatrics from Alex Ovechkin.
After sitting at the end of the Toronto Maple Leafs bench for more than 59 minutes on Tuesday, backup goalie Curtis Joseph came in cold and shut down the NHL's brightest star. Not only did the 41-year-old stop an Ovechkin one-timer in the final minute of regulation, he also turned away the Russian star with Washington's final shootout attempt to secure a 3-2 victory for the Maple Leafs.
Joseph was only in the game because starter Martin Gerber got ejected for protesting a late tying goal. However, the strange scenario didn't faze him; neither did having to face Ovechkin.
"I've played long enough," said Joseph. "Ovechkin is definitely the greatest player in the game right now, I would agree with that. But I've played against the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux and guys like that.
"Hopefully that experience helped."
The atmosphere in the Air Canada Centre was reminiscent of an earlier time, with screaming fans chanting "Cujo! Cujo!"
He's likely to get another chance or two to play in the building before the end of the regular season - especially since Gerber faces a minimum three-game suspension. With the Leafs ahead 2-1, Capitals forward Brooks Laich tied the game with 56 seconds to play in regulation by shoving the puck and Gerber into the net.
The Leafs goalie quickly got up and raced towards referee Mike Leggo, bumping the official lightly before shooting the puck in his direction. That constitutes abuse of official.
"I'm sorry for me, for losing my cool there," said Gerber. "I got shoved in the net. That's why (the puck) went in. I was upset, shot the puck against the boards and after that he tossed me out for I don't know what.
"I shouldn't have done it. That's obvious. But there's not much you can do now."
It all made for a wild finish after a pretty tame game.
Jeff Hamilton scored with Toronto's first shootout attempt and the Caps were unable to beat Joseph. Ovechkin had the final attempt and was unable to lift the puck over the Leafs goalie.
Even the opposition came away raving about Joseph's late cameo.
"I'm pretty impressed," said Capitals goalie Jose Theodore. "I've got to tell you that you guys don't know how hard it is just to step in when you're not playing and then in the last minute, when it's a tie game like that.
"Like I said, it just showed the character and experience."
Phil Oreskovic and Pavel Kubina scored in regulation for Toronto (31-30-13) while Ovechkin and Laich replied for the Capitals (45-23-7).
The celebration following Ovechkin's 51st goal of the season won't draw the same kind of attention No. 50 did - from Don Cherry or anyone else. He simply kissed his glove and pointed to the sky after roaring around defenceman Luke Schenn and sliding the puck behind Gerber with 20 seconds to play in the second period.
The Russian star was in no mood to discuss goal celebrations after the game.
"I think it's enough," he said. "It's enough talking about it. It's history and if you want to talk about it, just go somewhere and talk with some guys."
Oreskovic didn't follow his first NHL goal and point with any elaborate celebration.
The hulking defenceman opened the scoring midway through the second period when his point shot bounced off at least one Capitals player before getting behind Theodore. He simply raised both arms in the air after just his third professional goal - including the two he has in 116 career AHL games.
"I didn't know if (Mikhail) Grabovski had tipped it or not," said Oreskovic. "They let me know it was mine right away. It was a real exciting feeling and I'm still a little tingly inside."
Kubina appeared to have set the Maple Leafs up for a victory when he scored a power-play goal at 17:52 of the third period, but Laich tied it 2-2 with 56.1 seconds left.
That set the scene for Joseph, who made eight saves in overtime and shut the door in the shootout.
While it's tempting to view this season as a swang-song for a guy who turns 42 next month, he certainly sounds like a guy who isn't ready to call it quits.
"I enjoy it so much and my body has never said no," said Joseph.
Even though this appears to be another lost season for the Maple Leafs, it's impossible to ignore the enthusiasm around the young team right now.
The players chanted Joseph's name as he entered the dressing room following the game. The no-name Leafs are now an impressive 10-4-1 in their last 15.
"I'm never amazed in this game but you can use that word if you like it," said Joseph. "Certainly there's a lot of fresh faces that are wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, which is exciting too - to look down the bench and see the big grins.
"It's good, it's fun. I'm enjoying that."
Notes: A video tribute was played for former Leaf Walt Poddubny, who died over the weekend at age 49 ... Ray Bourque's son Chris played his 12th career NHL game for Washington ... Former Leafs goalie Peter Ing watched from the stands ... Linesman Pierre Champoux took a hard shot off the leg in the first period but stayed in the game ... Announced attendance was 19,362.
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