The Toronto Maple Leafs' losing streak is over. It didn't come easy after giving up a late power-play goal, but the Leafs snapped their five-game skid by beating the Dallas Stars 3-2 in overtime Thursday night at Air Canada Centre.
Trevor Smith scored 4:18 into overtime for the Leafs, who won for the first time since Nov. 23 despite being outshot for the 10th consecutive game, this time 50-24.
Nazem Kadri scored twice for the Leafs (15-11-3) in his return from a one-game absence to attend his grandfather's funeral. It looked like his second goal would stand up as goaltender Jonathan Bernier made 42 saves in regulation.
Bernier made 48 saves counting overtime, but it didn't have to get to that point. Toronto's best penalty-killer Jay McClement took a tripping penalty late in the third and former Edmonton Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff scored when he tipped Kevin Connauton's shot past Bernier at 17:14.
It looked like Horcoff had a goal at the 9:42 mark of the third when he deflected Vernon Fiddler's power-play point shot in. But referees waved it off immediately and video review upheld the no-goal decision because of a high stick.
Before that moment, it was Kadri's night. The day after his grandfather's funeral, Kadri acknowledged that the failing health of the 77-year-old, also his namesake, distracted him. He kept checking in to see how his grandfather was doing and was caught by surprise when he died Monday morning.
Kadri had just three points in six games after returning from suspension Nov. 23. Injury woes up and down the lineup deserve some responsibility for that.
But yet another injury _ this time Tyler Bozak's oblique strain _ gave Kadri a prime opportunity to centre the top line of James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel. With Dave Bolland also out, it wasn't like coach Randy Carlyle had any other choice but to slide Kadri into that spot.
Nevertheless Kadri made the most of his promotion against the Stars (13-10-4), scoring 58 seconds into the second period off some sharp passes from Kessel and van Riemsdyk, who got tangled up with Dallas defenceman Trevor Daley before setting up the goal.
With Daley writhing in pain in the corner, Kessel won a puck battle with Stars centre Tyler Seguin, who returned after missing two games with a concussion, and sent the puck to van Riemsdyk, who found Kadri for his eighth of the season.
Daley had to be helped off the ice by teammates Alex Chiasson and Alex Goligoski and did not return with what the Stars announced as a lower-body injury. Dallas is already short on its blue-line without Stephane Robidas, who suffered a broken leg Nov. 19 against Chicago.
The Stars tied it early in the third period, taking advantage of a bad change by the Leafs. Erik Cole left the puck in open ice for rookie Valeri Nichushkin, then went to the net.
Nichushkin got it to Horcoff, who tapped it to Cole at the side of the net for his fourth goal of the season 1:58 into the third. But Kadri wasn't done making an impact in his return. At the 6:58 mark of the third, Kadri skated in front of the net and tipped defenceman Cody Franson's point shot past Lehtonen to make it 2-1 Leafs.
This was the first game between the Stars and Leafs since Nov. 25, 2011. Only 10 players who took part in that game played Thursday night, including Lehtonen.
A lack of familiarity didn't stop some chippiness in the first period. Van Riemsdyk went at it with Jamie Oleksiak, Kadri with Brendan Dillon and Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf with Stars counterpart Jamie Benn. Phaneuf and Benn each got two-minute minors for roughing as linesmen prevented full-fledged fights from breaking out.