Toronto Maple Leafs centre Tyler Bozak (42) celebrates the first goal of his NHL career against Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton during second period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Thursday January 14, 2010.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
TORONTO - It was a moment Tyler Bozak will never forget. And it was a reminder during tough times that better things might lie ahead for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Bozak earned a spot on the highlight reels with his first NHL goal Thursday and sparked the Maple Leafs to a 4-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
The game was tight until Bozak brought the Air Canada Centre alive with a gorgeous move at 8:44 of the second period. He turned defenceman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen inside-out before beating Michael Leighton high to the glove side.
"What a goal," said linemate Phil Kessel. "Highlight of the night. It's got to be.
"That was pretty special, especially to have that for your first goal. It was something else."
Vesa Toskala also played a big part in helping Toronto end a four-game losing streak by stopping all 38 shots he faced. He earned his first shutout since October 2008 - a span of 70 games.
Bozak was all smiles after the game as he described his goal for reporters. Even though one of the trainers put aside the puck for him, he figured the best memento will be the story he'll get to tell down the road.
"The guys were joking with me, saying I don't have to lie to my kids," said Bozak. "When I'm a grandparent, I don't have to lie about my first goal. It's nice to get a nice one."
The Leafs signed the 23-year-old as an undrafted college free agent last April and are hoping he develops into a top forward. He also chipped in an assist Thursday and has four points in three career games.
Bozak's good performance was timely.
Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke had conducted a news conference earlier in the day to answer questions about his struggling team, giving coach Ron Wilson a vote of confidence in the process. However, he also expressed frustration about the Leafs play this season.
"We've lost our way," said Burke. "We've got to get back on track."
Toskala's nicest save came in the opening minute of the second period, when he stretched his arm across the goal-line to stop what looked like a sure goal from Simon Gagne. The game was still 0-0 at that point.
Overall, it was easily his best performance during a season that has seen him relinquish the No. 1 goaltending duties to Jonas Gustavssson.
"It's nice to win," said Toskala. "I've been playing well for a long time. I just feel really good on the ice."
Nikolai Kulemin, Luke Schenn and Lee Stempniak also scored for the Maple Leafs (16-23-9).
It was an impressive victory against the red-hot Flyers, who lost for just the third time in 11 games. They saw their record fall to 23-20-3.
Philadelphia hammered the Leafs a week ago at Wachovia Center, but saw a different squad this time out.
"They're a tough team to play against," said Leighton. "They're either good or they're bad and I think they were good tonight."
Bozak and Jay Rosehill both provided a spark for Toronto after been recalled from the AHL Marlies in recent days. Rosehill put a puck behind Leighton in the opening minute - the goal didn't count because it went in off his glove - and earned an assist on Schenn's goal.
Wilson has been extremely pleased after watching Bozak for two games. The rookie has centred the top line between Kessel and Kulemin.
"You see how smart he is and he's quick," said Wilson. "His skill set matches up pretty well with Phil. And Kulemin is doing an unbelievable job hunting down pucks and banging, blocking shots, and doing a lot of the little detail work that doesn't get recognized."
One thing that didn't really materialize was a so-called fight night. Even though there was a brief melee in the final two minutes, it was nothing like the scrap-filled game the teams played a week ago in Philadelphia.
Following the game, Toronto set out for a five-game road trip that begins with a game in Washington on Friday night. Bozak hopes he's bought himself more time with the NHL team.
"I'm just trying to work as hard as I can and play to the best of my ability," he said. "Hopefully, they like it and I can stay here as long as I can. My goal's to be here for the rest of the year."
Notes: Leafs defenceman Carl Gunnarson returned after missing 22 games with an elbow injury, bumping Jeff Finger from the lineup ... Riley Cote and Brian Boucher were scratched for Philadelphia ... 10 Olympians suited up for the game - five from each team ... It was the first time in 12 games the Flyers failed to open the scoring ... Since Wilson took over as Leafs coach before last season, the team's record is 50-58-22 ... Announced attendance was 19,370.