UNIONDALE, NY – For a good moment or two, Clarke MacArthur was sure he'd been robbed.
"I thought I was on the bloopers for 10 years in a row in Toronto," he said. "It was nice that it went in."
Replays confirmed the puck crossing the line as swiftly as Al Montoya looked to keep it out, the overtime winner and second of two for MacArthur in a wild 4-3 Leafs victory in Long Island on Tuesday night. Sweeping both ends of a home and home set with the Islanders, the Leafs enter the All-Star break with 55 points, locked in a three-way tie for eighth in the Eastern Conference.
The win was not without intrigue.
Mikhail Grabovski appeared to seal the comeback victory in regulation, knuckling a shot off the stick of Milan Jurcina, a floater that sailed slowly past the right shoulder of Montoya. But with only 12 seconds left to go in regulation, Grabovski had luck swing around in the other direction, his clearing attempt caroming off the side boards to PA Parenteau directly in front, the game-tying score and need for overtime.
MacArthur's 14th of the year – off a brilliant feed from Grabovski – ended it moments later.
"When we gave up the goal late, you're sitting there looking up, there's 12 seconds left and it's not a very good feeling to be completely honest with you," Dion Phaneuf said after the game. "I thought for us to come back and to keep playing and keep pushing and really push 'til we won the game, not accept losing that hockey game I thought it was a real character win."
Picking up all four possible points – after a 3-0 win on Monday – in the back-to-back set the Leafs have left the Islanders far in the rear-view mirror, now 10 points ahead. They've also kept themselves well in the thick of a crowded Eastern Conference playoff race.
1. MacArthur's three point night – he also added an assist – ended an eight-game pointless drought, his longest as a Leaf. Relegated to fourth line duty on Monday night, the 26-year-old reunited with Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin in the second period on Tuesday, responding almost immediately with the Leafs first goal of the night. "I told Clarkie if you get your feet moving and you play aggressively we'll get you back up," Ron Wilson said following the game. "We played like we did a lot of last year," MacArthur said. "We just have to focus on what gives us these good games." MacArthur had been pointless in 10 previous games alongside Grabovski and Kulemin.
2. Grabovski matched a career-high with a goal and three assists, the second four-point game of his career and first since March 21, 2009. The 27-year-old has eight goals and 19 points in the last 19 games, also leading the Leafs with 13 points in January. An impending unrestricted free agent, he's well on his way to matching the career totals (29 goals, 58 points) he set last season. At his best on the road, Grabovski has 19 points in 18 games, also leading the Leafs with a plus-11 rating.
3. Jake Gardiner scored his first NHL goal in the win, a shot that sailed past Montoya with MacArthur camped out in front. "Dion and Phil were screaming at me to shoot the puck tonight," Gardiner grinned. "I just threw it on net and it went in." The 21-year-old has attempted a mere 41 shots in 42 games, a constant point of emphasis from teammates and the coaching staff. "We yelled at him a few times to shoot the puck," Wilson said. "He's still electing to find a better play and there was a shot that he just threw at the net and through a screen and it manages to go in. It wasn't a hard shot so hopefully he's learned his lesson from that." Gardiner also added an assist in over 26 minutes.
4. Jonas Gustavsson had yet another solid performance with 29 saves in the win. The 27-year-old improves to 7-3-0 in January with a sparkling 1.90 goals against average and .931 save percentage. "He's playing well enough that we can ride with him," Wilson said. "This isn't a controversy or anything. He's playing the way we expected him to play a couple years ago when we signed him." This is not merely a January hot streak for the third-year netminder. In 17 starts since mid-November, he's posted a 12-5-0 record with a 2.23 goals against average and .925 save percentage.
5. For the second consecutive night and third time this month the Leafs did not give their opponent a single powerplay. "Another phenomenal night where we didn't give up a penalty kill," Wilson said. "Credit our players for playing disciplined, it's really nice." Eliminating the string of stick fouls that plagued them in December, the Leafs have yielded the opposition two powerplays or fewer in nine of 11 games in January. The once well-maligned penalty kill remains a perfect 16-16 in the New Year.
The Leafs improved to 2-17-4 when trailing after two periods, the game turning in their favour late in the second. "We thought there were a few cheap shots going on out there," Wilson said. "We just had to respond by finishing our checks and getting aggressive on the forecheck and we did." Phil Kessel and Andrew MacDonald were well-engaged in a back-and-forth affair, but it may have been a Nino Niederreiter hit on Grabovski in the neutral zone that sparked the Leafs anger...Kulemin notched two assists in the win to snap a six-game point drought…The Leafs boast a very average 11-11-1 mark on the road this season, but have the NHL's third-best even-strength goal differential at plus-10. The biggest flaw in their game away from Toronto: they've allowed 26 powerplay goals, worst in the league…Phaneuf played over 30 minutes for the first time this season, finishing with a minus-2 rating…Mike Komisarek logged only nine minutes and 12 seconds in the win, just a single shift in the third…Luke Schenn played over 18 minutes and finished with a plus-3 rating…Grabovski (plus-11), MacArthur (plus-10), and Kulemin (plus-9) sit one, two and three on the Leafs in plus/minus rating on the road. Kessel is a team-worst minus-6, but leads the way at home with a plus-7 mark.