The inconsistent Maple Leafs could not take advantage of a Carolina team that hadn't scored in more than two games, instead allowing forwards Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal to power the 'Canes to a 3-2 victory.
Jeff Skinner scored a goal and assisted on another, and Eric Staal added two helpers as the Carolina Hurricanes held off a late Toronto Maple Leafs comeback attempt in a 3-2 victory at RBC Center in Raleigh on Sunday night.
Skinner scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal with just under seven minutes left in regulation. After Cam Ward made a big stop on Tim Connolly at one end, Staal ended up with a breakaway going the other direction. Toronto netminder Ben Scrivens made the initial save, but no one picked up the trailing Skinner, who snapped a shot into the open corner to give Carolina a 3-1 lead.
The Hurricanes ruined a valiant effort by the NHL's goal-scoring and points leader, Phil Kessel, who notched two third period goals to increase his totals to 16 goals and 29 points.
Carolina built a 2-0 lead heading into the third period, on a goal from the point by Jay Harrison with 29 seconds left in the first and a power play tally by Jussi Jokinen from the right circle that banked off of a defenseman's skate in front of Scrivens at 7:05 of the middle frame.
'Canes goaltender Cam Ward stopped 22 Maple Leafs shots, including a spectacular early third period save in which he got his glove up on a Connolly shot that was ticketed for the upper corner while moving post-to-post.
Scrivens, who made 38 saves on 41 Carolina shots, was the hard-luck loser, as Toronto has scored just 12 goals in his last five starts. Despite having a goals-against average under 3.00 and a .904 save percentage, his record fell to 2-4-1. The goalie, who along with Jonas Gustavsson is filling in for the injured James Reimer, was especially effective in the second period, when he was incredible in stopping 18 of 19 Hurricanes' shots to keep the Leafs close. His point blank save on Staal late in the third gave his team a chance, and looked huge when Kessel scored moments later to make it a one-goal game with just a minute left in the third.
Toronto was held off the board by Ward until early in the third stanza, when they finally earned their first man advantage of the evening. With the teams already playing four-on-four, ex-Leaf Alexei Ponikarovsky was sent off for elbowing Joffrey Lupul. On the ensuing power play, defenseman Dion Phaneuf launched a point blast that Ward stopped. Lupul, who was stationed in front, was able to get a whack at it, and the puck kicked out to the right of the Carolina net. Kessel pounced on the loose puck and ripped a one-timer past Ward to make it a 2-1 contest.
Going 1-2 tonight Toronto's power play has been absolutely red hot, scoring goals on eight of its last 19 opportunities.
The Maple Leafs continued their recent uneven play, showing both ends of their inconsistency over the weekend. After blitzing the Washington Capitals 7-1 on home ice last night, Toronto missed a golden opportunity to move into sole possession of first place in the Northeast Division by losing to a Hurricanes club that had lost seven of its last eight and was just 2-8 in its previous 10 games, and sits in the 14th spot in the Eastern Conference. Carolina hadn't even scored a goal in their previous two games.
The Leafs remain tied for first with the Buffalo Sabres in the division with 24 points.
Carolina was particularly dominant in the faceoff circle tonight, winning 37 of 57 draws (65%). By improving their record at the RBC Center to 5-5-1, the 'Canes moved to within two point of the Winnipeg Jets for fourth place in the Southeast Division.