On a night when Toronto Maple Leafs great Wendel Clark shaved his moustache off for the first time in more than 25 years, the Leafs survived a close shave themselves.
Thanks to another strong night in goal from Jonas Gustavsson and a late appearance by Phil Kessel, the Leafs took home a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Air Canada Centre. That ran their NHL record to 7-2-1, tops in the Northeast Division.
Clark had his famous moustache clipped during the second period to kick off the Leafs’ Movember promotion to raise money for prostate cancer research. He then appeared bare-faced on the scoreboard video screen and paid tribute to Mats Sundin, who was also in the house.
“In honour of Mats Sundin I had to shave it off. Now I’ve got to shave my head, too,” Clark said as the smooth-pated Sundin beamed from the platinum seats in his first official appearance in more than two years.
Earlier in the game, Sundin was introduced to the crowd and received a long, warm standing ovation from the 19,526 fans. It was announced his No. 13 Leaf sweater will be raised to the ACC rafters on Feb. 11.
“That was well-deserved,” Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said of the ovation, which clearly moved Sundin. “I could see when I looked up he had some tears in his eyes.”
The Maple Leafs held a slight edge through the first two periods but could not pull away from the Penguins, who were coping with a depleted lineup. In addition to Sidney Crosby, who is nearing a return from a concussion, the Penguins were missing No. 3 centre Jordan Staal (leg injury), winger Tyler Kennedy (concussion) and defenceman Zbynek Michalek (broken finger).
Also, for some reason, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma elected to sit Marc-Andre Fleury and start backup goaltender Brent Johnson, even though the Penguins have four days off following the Leaf game. Johnson didn’t play too badly, though, keeping his team in the game even though Evgeni Malkin took two penalties in the first two periods and the Leafs scored on the power play each time.
Down at the other end of the ice, Gustavsson put in another night of good work in subbing for James Reimer. He made a tremendous glove save on Steve Sullivan after Sullivan had him down and vulnerable. Then late in the third period, with the Leafs hanging on to a 4-3 lead, Gustavsson stacked his pads and stopped Penguins red-hot scorer James Neal.
“He’s a lot better handling pucks around his net,” Wilson said of Gustavsson’s recent play.
The Leafs took the early lead on Malkin’s first penalty when Mikhail Grabovski tipped a shot from the point by Dion Phaneuf. The Penguins came back with a goal from Matt Cooke midway through the second period but when Malkin went off again, Tim Connolly scored his first goal as a Maple Leaf to regain the lead for the hosts.
The see-saw continued when Chris Kunitz scored a power-play goal for Pittsburgh late in the second period. Clarke MacArthur then restored the Leaf lead with his second goal of the season.
Malkin, who made a nice play to set up Kunitz’s goal, atoned again for his penalties with a goal in the third period to tie the score 3-3.
That set the stage for Phil Kessel, who had a quiet night up until then, to wire his 10th goal of the season past Johnson for the winner. It also pulled him ahead of Neal for the NHL lead in goals.
The Leafs left immediately after the game for Ottawa, where they will play the Senators on Sunday night.
It looks like Reimer, who the Leafs insist does not have a concussion, will not be ready to play Sunday. Gustavsson is expected to start again and Reimer will stay on the injured-reserve list with Ben Scrivens backing up.
Reimer was on the ice with the Leafs for their game-day skate on Saturday but Wilson said he has not had enough practice to suit up in Ottawa.
“He took a few shots [Saturday]but not enough where I feel comfortable playing him,” Wilson said.