TORONTO (AP) -Three wins in four games have the Toronto Maple Leafs talking about the postseason again.
They came into Saturday's game against the NHL's top team, the Detroit Red Wings, 14th in the Eastern Conference and third from the bottom in the league. A 3-2 victory buoyed their spirits, especially on the heels of wins over Ottawa and Montreal.
Nik Antropov deflected in Anton Stralman's slap shot 62 seconds into overtime to give the Maple Leafs their latest stirring victory. Stralman fired a shot, and Antropov - skating toward the net - lifted his stick blade and got a piece of the puck, sending it past goalie Dominik Hasek.
"It was a huge win for us," Antropov said. "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 poorly against the rest. Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice wouldn't bite when asked if he felt this could be the start of a playoff run.
"Take it for what it is fellas," Maurice said. "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" (at Buffalo).
|Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Vesa Toskala, left, keeps his eye on the puck as Toronto defenseman Ian White ties up Red Wings forward Dallas Drake during the first period in Toronto on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2008. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Adrian Wyld)|
The key to the win: Vesa Toskala outplayed Dominik Hasek.
Detroit outshot Toronto 34-24 through regulation, and the Leafs won it on the only shot in overtime.
"It just shows we can beat any team in the league," said Toskala, 6-1 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."
Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom helped Darcy Tucker open the scoring with a power-play goal 9:00 into 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," Tucker said.
Lidstrom tied it 1-1 with a deflection of Pavel Datsyuk's 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 it over in the second half," Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said.
Sundin tied it 2-2 when his soft shot ricocheted in off the inside of Hasek's right skate blade at 13:35.
Red 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.
"He's been playing real well for us," Lidstrom told the Detroit Free Press. "He is one of our key players on the power play on the second unit, and I think he's been coming along real well, hanging on to the puck and making plays.
"He's so good down low at hanging on to the puck and making plays with it, so someone has to step up and replace him."
Toronto 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 played after missing five games with a separated shoulder.
Tucker scored on a power play when his pass out of a corner to the left of the net caromed off Lidstrom's right skate and between Hasek's legs while Samuelsson served an interference penalty at 9:00.
Lidstrom tied it at 16:59 of the second when he scooted past Pavel Kubina and stuck out his stick to deflect in Pavel Datsyuk's pass.
Toskala robbed Samuelsson by stopping a point-blank shot early in the third. Toskala was his usual steady self against Detroit. He began this game with a 1.47 goals-against average against the Red Wings.
Lidstrom's assist on Samuelsson's goal was his 54th point, the most among NHL defensemen.
It was Toronto's fifth afternoon home game in 12 years, and the Maple Leafs won them all.
"We've been working hard," Steen said. "Vesa has been making some big saves for us as well. The big part was that we were able to come back from a deficit and tie the game and then win it in overtime."
The Red Wings, who have an NHL-high 87 points, will look to regroup after consecutive losses to last-place teams Los Angeles and Toronto in a span of 72 hours.
"I hear this lots when we're not perfect," Babcock said. "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: Detroit was 0-for-2 on the power play. Toronto went 1-for-2. ... Detroit has scored at least two goals in 34 consecutive road games, going back to last spring's playoffs. ... 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. ... This was the first afternoon game in Toronto since Feb. 9, 2002, when the Leafs beat Montreal. ... Chris Chelios, Detroit's 46-year-old defenseman, played in his 1,599th game.
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