Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Ian White collides with Detroit Red Wings\' Aaron Downey during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto, Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
TORONTO - Here we go again.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, having won three of their last four games by knocking off teams way ahead of them in the NHL standings in Ottawa, Montreal and Detroit, are once again talking about making the playoffs.
The Leafs, buried in 14th place in the Eastern Conference and 28th overall going into their game against the No. 1 Red Wings on Saturday afternoon, emerged with a 3-2 victory when Nik Antropov deflected in an Anton Stralman blast 62 seconds into overtime.
"It was a huge win for us," said Antropov. "We're still hoping we can make the playoffs."
It was a mismatch on paper, yet the Leafs have played their best hockey against the best teams, while performing so poorly against the rest of the lot that GM John Ferguson was fired.
Head coach Paul Maurice wouldn't bite when asked if he felt the playoff coals being stoked by the latest unexpected triumph.
"Take it for what it is fellas," Maurice told assembled scribes. "Some of you will really like the win and some of you will think that it hurts our draft pick.
"Do with it what you want. We're just taking the points and playing again Wednesday."
Toronto is at Buffalo to play the Sabres on Wednesday and has home games Thursday against the Islanders and Saturday against the Bruins.
Most in the capacity Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,510 were screaming approval at the end of the game.
The key to the win: Vesa Toskala outplayed Dominik Hasek.
Detroit outshot Toronto 34-24 through 60 minutes, and the Leafs won it on the only shot on goal in overtime.
"It just shows we can beat any team in the league," said Toskala.
Toskala improved to 6-1-0-0 against Detroit in his career.
"I knew I'd just have to be patient," he said. "They make so many cross-passes and drop passes.
"That's a key - stay patient and stay on your feet."
Nick Lidstrom's feet helped Darcy Tucker open the scoring with a power-play goal at the 9:00 mark of the first period. Tucker's attempted pass to Mats Sundin out of a corner took a wild carom off Lidstrom's right skate and slid through Hasek's legs.
"For all the bad luck that I've had this year, it was nice to see that won go in," said Tucker.
Lidstrom tied it 1-1 with a deflection of a Pavel Datsyuk pass at 16:59 of the second period, and Lidstrom gave Detroit a 2-1 lead at 11:18 of the third when his long shot was stopped by Toskala's blocker, but rebounded off Mikael Samuelsson and into the net.
"It was a slow start for us but I thought we took (the game) over in the second half," said Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg.
Sundin tied it 2-2 when his soft shot ricocheted in off the inside of Hasek's right skate blade at 13:35. The skinny Czech has had better days, and even better nights.
The Leafs got two forwards back: Antropov returned from a three-game suspension for tossing his stick in the direction of the referees after an overtime loss at Carolina last week; and Alex Steen was a go after missing five games with a separated shoulder. The energy boost helped.
Having the franchise's best six defencemen all healthy and available at the same time has been of enormous benefit in the Leafs' surge.
"We've got a very small window left and I'd like to see them all stay healthy for the rest of it," said Maurice. "There's no question those defencemen, healthy, make a big difference.
"It's not that the other defencemen we've had in there aren't capable of doing it but over the long haul, over a 54-or 55-game stretch . . . getting Bryan (McCabe) and Carlo (Colaiacovo) back in the lineup gives everybody the opportunity to get the minutes they should be playing."
Wings forward Dan Cleary suffered a jaw injury in the first period when he was hit in the face by the puck. He was taken for X-rays and Detroit coach Mike Babcock said there might be fractures in two places.
Cleary, who is tied for third on the team in scoring with 20 goals, has not missed a game all season.
The Leafs might want to consider scheduling more afternoon games. This was their fifth home matinee in the the last 12 years, and they've won them all. Night or day, they'll take a win anytime - especially after being counted out of playoff contention by all but immediate family members and close friends.
"Everybody's shown a lot of character and everybody has really stuck together," said Steen. "We've played some good hockey.
"We've been working hard. Vesa has been making some big saves for us as well. The big part about (Saturday) was that we were able to come back from a deficit and tie the game and then win it in overtime."
Babcock appeared to have retained his sanity despite losses to cellar dweller Los Angeles and to lowly Toronto in a 72-hour stretch he'd love to forget.
He was asked why his players appeared lethargic.
"I hear this lots when we're not perfect," Babock replied. "I think, because we've got so many points, we're supposed to be unbelievable.
"(Toronto) has good players. They played hard. They got good, timely goaltending. I thought we controlled the game more and more as it went on, and in the end the last shot won."
Notes(at): Detroit was 0-for-2 and Toronto 1-for-2 on power plays . . . It was the 34th consecutive road game, going back to last spring's playoffs, that Detroit has scored at least two goals . . . It was Detroit's first game in Toronto since a 5-2 loss on Dec. 6, 2003 . . . LW Alexei Ponikarovsky (dislocated shoulder) remained out of Toronto's lineup for a seventh straight game, LW Chad Kilger (personal reasons) missed his fifth in a row, RW Wade Belak was a healthy scratch and C Kris Newbury was returned to the AHL's Toronto Marlies . . . This was the first afternoon game in Toronto since Feb. 9, 2002, when the Leafs beat the Canadiens 4-1 . . . Former Leafs Darryl Sittler and Dave (Tiger) Williams reminisced while watching the game from a team box behind and above press row . . . Chris Chelios, Detroit's 46-year-old defenceman, appeared in his 1,599th game. Chelios is older than seven NHL head coaches. He played his first game on March 8, 1984, which was before teammates Valtteri Filppula and Derek Meech were born . . . The Leafs will practice at an outdoor rink in the city's east end on Monday morning.