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TORONTO (AP) - It's impossible to fault John Mitchell for seeming a little out of breath in the wake of another comeback victory for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He wasn't the only one left gasping for air on this night.
The New York Rangers were cruising along with a 2-0 lead midway through the third period and seemed destined to leave a sleepy Air Canada Centre with a win on Saturday. Then Mitchell scored his first NHL goal and things got wacky, as the Maple Leafs ended up beating Steve Valiquette four more times in a span of 5:21 to pull out a 5-2 victory.
``It certainly was a burst of energy it came all at once,'' said forward Dominic Moore, one of Toronto's goal-scorers. ``It seemed like it must have been pent up. With the fans as well, they sort of released their (energy) all together.
``That was one of the funner comebacks I've been apart of.''
It's of little wonder. There wasn't much reason to believe it was coming.
The game appeared to have slipped away by the time Mitchell was penalized for holding at 10:10 of the third period. The 23-year-old rookie felt shame while sitting in the penalty box but that soon gave way to elation.
He skated into the Rangers end when the penalty expired and roofed a shot over Valiquette at 12:36. That's when everything went blank.
``I just fist-pumped as many times as I could,'' said Mitchell. ``I was so excited that nothing was really running through my mind, just, `I scored, I scored, I scored.'
``It was great.''
And the fun was only starting.
Jason Blake tied it 2-2 at 14:02 before Pavel Kubina ripped a slapshot over Valiquette just 52 seconds after that. Mitchell got his second of the night at 16:06 and Moore put an exclamation mark on the game with his third of the season at 17:57.
You practically had to swallow to unpop your ears at that point.
``It's been awhile since I've been in a game that the crowd gets into it that much,'' said Leafs forward Niklas Hagman. ``It was so loud and we were throwing everything to the net.
``I'm pretty sure it put a little doubt in (Valiquette's) mind about what was going to happen.''
That in itself is amazing.
The 31-year-old from nearby Etobicoke is the backup to Henrik Lundqvist and has been a journeyman pro, but he's absolutely owned the Maple Leafs. He shut them out through 65 minutes in a 1-0 Rangers victory on Oct. 17 and was just 7:24 from posting another goose-egg in this one.
``I don't know exactly why that happened,'' said Valiquette. ``It hasn't soaked in yet ... I'm really surprised.''
The Rangers are off to the best start in franchise history and entered as the top team in the NHL.
That's just one further reason why it looked like the game was theirs.
``The trolley came off the tracks with the silly passes and the turnovers in the neutral zone,'' said New York coach Tom Renney. ``We started turning the puck over, and allowed the Leafs to get back in the game.''