TORONTO (AP)—Dion Phaneuf had a simple explanation for Toronto’s recent struggles: The Maple Leafs have been rattled by all the trade talk.
“It is a tough time of year for guys playing in a big market like this and hearing stuff day in and day out,” Phaneuf said. “But it’s part of the business and we’ve all been through it. We’re going to come back with the right attitude and we’ve got to win hockey games. That’s the bottom line.
“We haven’t been winning them and we have to start.”
“Tonight was a huge win for us,” said Capitals defenseman Mike Green. “It puts us back where we want to be and we’ve got to keep getting better from here. It’s been a rough go this year and we’ve got to make up some ground.”
“The fans, they’ve been pretty loyal to us, been loyal to me,” said James Reimer, who made 32 saves for the Maple Leafs. “They’re the ones that pay the money, they’re the ones that deserve to have the guys try and play well in front of them—me included.”
The Leafs fell flat in their final outing before the trade deadline, even getting pinned in their own zone for a minute-long stretch during the second period. With Monday’s trade deadline looming and the Leafs in a 1-7-1 slide, tension is high in Toronto, but Phaneuf said he doesn’t think any big changes are needed.
“We believe in this group,” he said.
Johansson opened the scoring just 32 seconds in with a wraparound that took Reimer by surprise. Semin made it 2-0 just over 3 minutes later by stripping defenseman Luke Schenn of the puck and beating Reimer through the legs.
Reimer made a few strong saves early in the second period—denying Matt Hendricks and Jason Chimera on odd-man rushes—to keep the Leafs in it. Reimer also turned away a couple chances just before Halpern extended the lead to 3-0 with 8:29 to go in the second.
Aucoin picked up his first goal of the season on a tic-tac-toe passing play with Johansson and Ovechkin with 4:57 to go in the middle session.
Toronto tried to mount an unlikely comeback in the third—Armstrong picked up his first goal in a year and Connolly banked a shot in from behind the net— but Neuvirth buckled down and secured the victory.
“It’s not Maple Leaf hockey,” said Toronto defenseman John-Michael Liles. “We have to take it upon ourselves in this room. We’ve got the team to do it here, we’ve done it for a long time this season. It’s a matter of getting back to how we’re successful.”
Notes: Mike Komisarek and Joey Crabb sat out for Toronto … Matt Frattin had plenty of jump after being called up from the Toronto of the AHL … The Caps continue to scratch veterans: 37-year-old defenseman Roman Hamrlik missed a third straight game, while 39-year-old forward Mike Knuble sat out for the fifth time this month … Ovechkin has 42 points (23-19) in 26 career games against Toronto.
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