Score one for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the battle for 11th place in the Eastern Conference.
The Leafs held on by the skin of their teeth for a 4-3 shootout win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, coughing up three consecutive one-goal leads in their first game back from the all-star break but holding on to take the two points.
The win moved Toronto to within five points of the 11th-place Panthers in the standings as the Leafs attempt to mount an unlikely bid for the playoffs over the final 33 games of the season.
Pacing Toronto, as it has for much of the season, was the top line, with both Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski picking up a goal and an assist and Clarke MacArthur adding an assist and having several chances of his own.
Kulemin and Grabovski broke their previous career highs with their 17th and 21st goals of the season, giving Toronto 2-1 and 3-2 leads after Kris Versteeg had opened the scoring early in the first period.
Florida out-shot Toronto 22-10 in the second and third, but Leafs netminder Jean-Sébastien Giguère played one of his best games on the year, making several terrific saves late as his team struggled to hold the lead.
A late penalty to Phil Kessel, however, led to a Cory Stillman goal that tied the game at three with a little under four minutes to play in the third period.
That set up the dramatic finish, where Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen narrowly stopped Kessel on a breakaway late in overtime, allowing the Leafs to win in the shootout after Tyler Bozak and Colby Armstrong both scored.
With the win, the Leafs now have 45 points after 50 games, a 74-point pace that would match the 74 points they had a year ago.
MacArthur said the Leafs realize how difficult a climb is ahead if they hope to make the postseason for the first time since 2004.
"We've got 30-some odd games left," MacArthur said. "If you think about it, we've got to be batting .750 the rest of the way or something around there. That's a lot of hard work ahead of us."
With 32 games remaining, the Leafs need a record equivalent to 22-9-1 to get to the 90-point mark, which would likely give them a decent shot at the postseason.
That's not quite .750, but not that far off, either.
The Leafs' goalie carousel continued to spin on Tuesday, with the veteran Giguère getting the start, rookie James Reimer backing him up and sophomore Jonas Gustavsson a healthy scratch.
Giguère was solid on the night, making 30 saves for his 10th win of the season to give him a 10-9-3 record on the year. Because Toronto's next game is against the Carolina Hurricanes, who scored five times on Giguère in a 6-4 Leafs loss last week, Reimer may get that start on Thursday.
"I think it's going to be a day-to-day thing," Giguère said. "Whoever plays well is going to play."
Gustavsson, meanwhile, could be headed to the minors on a two-week conditioning stint later this week when the Toronto Marlies return from their all-star break.
Kaberle trade talk
It was inevitable that trade talk around Leafs defenceman Tomas Kaberle was going to pick up at some point, as with the NHL's deadline now 26 days away, he is once again general manager Brian Burke's top tradable asset.
As has been the case the past two years, Kaberle has a no-trade clause and any deal will have to go through him. While Burke and Kaberle's agent Rick Curran are likely to discuss potential destinations in the near future, that's yet to occur.
"I haven't heard anything about that yet," Kaberle said Tuesday. "Obviously if something comes up, [the media]is going to be the first to know. Every year is the same, you know? There's going to be a lot of talk, especially towards the end.
"I'm just going to focus on the games."