Maple Leafs 6, Capitals 3

Matt Stajan had two goals and an assist to help Toronto beat the

Washington Capitals 6-3 on Saturday night, giving the Maple Leafs

three straight wins at home for the first time since January

2008.

Phil Kessel, Niklas Hagman, Lee Stempniak and Alexei

Ponikarovsky also scored for Toronto, 7-3-0 in its last 10 games

and 11-14-7 overall. Kessel also had two assists.

Nicklas Backstrom scored twice, and Alex Ovechkin added a goal

for Washington (20-7-6), which lost for the second time this season

in Toronto.

Stajan scored the decisive goal at 5:03 of the third period,

giving Toronto a 4-3 lead by burying a rebound behind Michal

Neuvirth. Stempniak provided a key insurance goal by getting behind

Ovechkin and scoring short-handed at 9:44.

Toronto was playing for the eighth time in 13 days, but was

still better rested than the visitors. After beating Carolina on

Friday night, Washington’s flight to Toronto was cancelled when

sparks started to fly on its plane prior to takeoff. The team flew

on the morning of the game instead.

However, Leafs coach Ron Wilson didn’t think it would slow down

the Caps.

“I don’t think it will have any effect,” he said after the

morning skate. “Sometimes the routine doesn’t mean a damn thing.

Players hide behind that. If they go on and have a good game, don’t

be surprised if they’re not flying on the morning of games, if they

can get to places, the rest of the year.”

Washington may have proved him right with a fast start that was

helped by an unusual call from referee Dan O’Halloran, who

penalized Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala for freezing the puck outside

his crease. Ovechkin promptly one-timed home his 21st goal of the

season just 2 minutes in.

The Caps then went ahead 2-0 when Backstrom converted Ovechkin’s

pass at 5:15 – the first of two similar-looking goals the linemates

would hook up on.

Toronto was fortunate the lead didn’t grow more than that as

Brendan Morrison missed an empty net on a 2-on-1 and Toskala turned

away Alexander Semin on a breakaway. Toskala stopped the Russian on

another breakaway in the third period.

The Leafs comeback started when Stajan knocked a rebound behind

Neuvirth at 1:29 of the second period before Kessel beat the young

Czech goalie with a wrist shot during a 5-on-3 power play at

5:54.

Suddenly, the Air Canada Centre was alive with an energy rarely

seen since opening night. Backstrom and Hagman traded goals before

the intermission and the crowd came to its feet to give the Leafs a

rarely seen standing ovation after 40 minutes.

The volume only got amplified as the Leafs polished off the win

in the third period, eliciting enthusiastic chants of “Go Leafs

Go!” as the clock wound down. Ponikarovsky rewarded them by

scoring with 39.3 seconds remaining in the game.

NOTES: It was the seventh career NHL game for Neuvirth, a

21-year-old Czech. … The Caps are 8-0-0 against the Southeast

Division this season and 12-7-6 against everyone else. … Cynthia

Dale, wife of CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge, sang the national

anthems. … Former Leafs captain Darryl Sittler watched the game

from press row.