Leafs Continue Winning Ways
Tuesday, 06.19.2012 / 2:12 AM
-- Vesa Toskala and the Toronto Maple Leafs began to turn their season around with a win in Atlanta late last month.
The Maple Leafs returned to Georgia on Friday night to prove they are still gaining momentum.
Toskala continued his hot streak with 24 stops and Toronto took advantage of more second-period success to beat the Atlanta Thrashers 4-0 on Friday night in the opener of the Maple Leafs' season-high seven-game road trip.
Toskala posted his second shutout of the season and eighth of his career. He improved to 6-1 in his last seven games, a stretch that began with a 4-2 win in Atlanta on Nov. 29.
"I'm seeing the puck well," Toskala said. "Overall, I'm really comfortable. I'm having fun. That's the key.
"It was important to get this road trip started the right way."
Toskala has not allowed more than two goals in any game during the seven-game stretch, making it difficult for Toronto coach Paul Maurice to give his opening-day goalie, Andrew Raycroft, a start.
"Toskala is playing very, very well," Maurice said.
Along the way Toskala denied Ilya Kovalchuk, the NHL leader with 24 goals, on a second-period breakaway.
"He came so fast," Toskala said. "I was expecting it. He came with a lot of speed.
Maurice was less impressed with his team's offence. The Maple Leafs led only 2-0, including a short-handed goal, before Alexei Ponikarovsky scored twice in the final 3:19.
"We struggled more offensively," Maurice said. "I thought we left some offense there. I don't think we gave up too much. It was a pretty solid, pretty tight game."
Ponikarovsky returned after being bloodied by a second-period hit from Bobby Holik. He was knocked face-down to the ice by the blow from Holik and was slow to get up.
"I got stitched up," Ponikarovsky said. "I felt OK and I was OK to play.
"I wasn't happy, to be honest with you. In my opinion, it was a clear hit to the head. It's not nice to do that. I want to see a replay. I didn't see him coming at all."
No penalty was called.
Toskala has started 11 of the last 12 games. With Toskala in the net, Toronto (14-12-6) has recovered from an 8-11-6 start.
The Maple Leafs, who lead the NHL with 44 second-period goals, scored twice in the period following a scoreless opening 20 minutes.
Toronto, denied on its first three power plays, scored a short-handed goal on Atlanta's first opportunity with a man-advantage.
After Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen left the net to help a teammate behind the left circle, Boyd Devereaux took the puck, quickly skated behind the net before Lehtonen could return and flipped the puck around the right post.
The Maple Leafs took a 2-0 lead midway through the second period on Mats Sundin's quick shot in front of the net off a pass from Nikolai Antropov.
"We gave away two goals," Atlanta's Ken Klee said. "We gave away one on our power play and then the bank one at Kari. A couple of bad bounces like that when you are struggling is enough."
With 3:19 left in the game, Antropov earned another assist on Ponikarovsky's long slap shot between the circles. Ponikarovsky scored again with about 2 minutes left to close the scoring.
The Maple Leafs began the long road trip with their third straight road win.
"This was a big game for us," Sundin said. "We have to make sure we maintain and understand it's important to keep doing what we're doing now. I think we're doing a lot of the small things right."
Strong defense may be one of the big things. Toronto allowed fewer than 30 shots for the 14th time in its last 17 games.
Lehtonen made 31 stops for Atlanta.
The Thrashers have lost three in a row and have six shutout losses, tied for the most in the league.
Toskala is 4-0-1 in five career starts against Atlanta. ... Atlanta D Mark Popovic missed his fourth straight game with an ankle injury. ... Sundin has 539 career regular-season goals, one behind Teemu Selanne for No. 26 all-time. ... Atlanta had won four straight in the series before the Nov. 29 loss to Toronto.