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article imageMaple Leafs reach for the Stars in overtime win Special

By Dave Pitman     Dec 6, 2013 in Sports
Toronto - The Toronto Maple Leafs played host to the Dallas Stars on Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre, beating them 3-2 in overtime finally snapping the losing streak.
The Stars, having won 8 out of their last 10 road games, came into town fresh off a big shootout win over Chicago. Toronto however, had not won a game since November 23rd, losing to San Jose on Tuesday and having key players go down to injury. It was starting to take its toll on the Leafs players.
"We were flat today," Coach Randy Carlyle said of the team's practice following their 4-2 loss to San Jose on Tuesday night.
A deflating loss to one of the leagues top teams, their 5th loss in a row. The losing streak couldn't have come at a worse time. Pressure from the media is not a new concept in Toronto, but with the team starting the year 7-3, expectations were high. In a stretch of losses, players get disgruntled, coaches frustrated, management worrisome. All things that were about to be exposed to the world;
HBO's camera crew arrived in Toronto from Los Angeles earlier this week, and by mid afternoon Thursday at the Air Canada Centre they were everywhere. Access that the everyday media of Toronto can only dream of having was given to the crew to put together their famous "24/7" hockey documentary they produce each year. That has been the big buzz in town lately for fans of the club. For the team, however, the focus needed to be solely on winning hockey games.
Jonathan Bernier would get the start against the stars. He has a record of 2-2-1 over his career against the Stars in five games with a 2.18 GAA. On the other end, his counterpart Kari Lehtonen has a record of 2-6-1 with a 2.97 goals against average in his career against the Leafs. Both net-minders have been playing well this year and just one point separated the teams in the Standings. The Maple Leafs would be without key centres Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland who are on the Injured Reserve list. With them out, Toronto would need their other centers to step up.
The game started much like previous games for the Maple Leafs. It took over 11 minutes to get their first shot on net and at the end of the first period, the Stars were outshooting the Leafs 15-7.
The second frame provided a little more action. James Van Riemsdyk drove hard to the net, getting tangled up with Stars defenseman Trevor Daley. Daley would go hard into the boards feet first and stayed down. This gave Toronto a chance to capitalize and Nazem Kadri, who was returning after missing the last game to tend to a death in his family, scored the first of the game, and his 8th of the year. Daley left the game and did not return.
Taking that lead into the third, the Leafs came out sloppy and the Stars made them pay. A bad penalty to the Leafs led to an even worse turnover and Erik Cole put one past Bernier on the one-timer. But the Leafs would battle back. Later in the frame Cody Franson would let a shot go from the blue line and Nazem Kadri was there to tip it in for his 9th of the year to put the Leafs back on top 2-1. Bernier would have to stand on his head from this point on. The Leafs would take a few bad penalties; one late in the third from Jay McClement who is the teams best Penalty Killer. With McClement in the sin bin they would struggle to clear the puck and Shawn Horcoff tipped in a point shot with less than 2 minutes to go that would send the game into overtime.
The Stars came out in overtime applying pressure, but Bernier would come up with some big saves. It was a player who was called up to help fill the void at centre that would come up big for the Leafs. With 42 seconds remaining before a shootout would be needed, Alex Smith would tip home the game winner from Jake Gardiner, snapping the Leafs losing streak.
"Overtime, that's a lot of fun," Smith told media after the game through a big grin. "Real exciting looking up at the crowd after scoring."
It was an emotional win for Nazem Kadri who dedicated the game to his grandfather, after he passed away earlier this week.
"It's definitely something that he would've loved to see," Kadri said. "In the last couple years there hasn't been a game he's missed. He's going to be dearly missed by our family."
Coach Randy Carlyle was pleased with the win, but stressed how important it was for his team to build on it.
“Its time for this group to take a deep breath and go back to work tomorrow” said Carlyle. “We need to quit feeling sorry for ourselves…”
The coach was pleased with the performance of his top centre and his goalie.
“Nazem hasn’t looked himself lately, but he came in focused and it was good to see him rewarded. It’s a tough time.” Referring to the loss of Kadri's grandfather. “Bernier and Reimer have stepped up all season for us.”
Jonathan Bernier earned first star on the night, making 48 saves on 50 shots. It was a good bounce back game for him after losing to Montreal last weekend.
The Leafs will head to Ottawa Saturday night to play the Senators before returning home to play Boston on Sunday. The schedule doesn’t get any easier as the team hosts Los Angeles and Chicago next week.
Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (43) celebrates his goal with right wing Phil Kessel (81) and...
Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (43) celebrates his goal with right wing Phil Kessel (81) and defenseman Cody Franson (4) against the Dallas Stars at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafsbeat the Stars 3-2 in overtime
With permission by Reuters / Tom Szczerbowski-USA Today
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