TORONTO | The chants of “Cu-jo” echoed through Air Canada Centre like they had a decade before.
For one night, goaltender Curtis Joseph reminded Toronto Maple Leafs fans why he ranks fourth all-time in career victories in a 3-2 shootout win against the Washington Capitals.
The 41-year-old played less than six minutes but made nine saves, and the roars grew with each stop. In the shootout he stopped Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin shot high and then Joseph turned aside Alex Ovechkin to secure the win.
“I’ve got to say I am pretty impressed by that,” Caps goalie Jose Theodore said of Joseph’s relief effort. “You guys don’t know hard it is just to step in when you’re not playing, but then in the last minute with a tie game - it just shows his character.”
Pavel Kubina gave Toronto a 2-1 lead with 2:09 remaining in regulation with a power-play goal, but the Caps answered with 56.1 seconds left. Brooks Laich jammed in a rebound for his 19th of the season.
Maple Leafs goalie Martin Gerber was incensed because he thought he had the puck covered, and during his protest he shoved linesman Pierre Champoux and was ejected.
Enter Joseph, who’s in his second tour with the Maple Leafs. He looked the like goalie who carried Toronto on a surprising run to the 2002 conference finals when he robbed Ovechkin on a one-timer with 15 seconds left in regulation and then snared a great opportunity from Mike Green in the first minute of overtime.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys get pulled and the backup come in and be unbelievable, but I think Alex [Ovechkin] really tested him right off the bat,” Boudreau said. “Once he got that save, that livened up the crowd, and he got into it and he was really good.”
After a sluggish opening period, Maple Leafs rookie defenseman Phil Oreskovic put Toronto on the board first. His soft shot from the right point squeezed through Theodore’s legs at 9:04 of the middle period.
Theodore protested to a nearby official that Mikhail Grabovski had interfered when he brushed past the goaltender just before the puck went by, but it was to no avail. It was the first NHL goal for Oreskovic, a third-round pick in 2005 with eight games of experience at this level.
“I’m out on my crease and I’m ready for the shot, but then he stakes my stick away and I am turning and the puck passes me as I’m turning sideways,” Theodore said. “Maybe not a penalty, but it should have been at least no goal for sure.”
For the third time in five games, the Caps did not draw a penalty until at least late in the second period. But rugged Toronto forward Jamal Mayers was whistled for interference with 59.5 seconds left, and Ovechkin leveled the contest before the intermission.
Backstrom carried the puck to the offensive blue line on a rush and sent it to Ovechkin near the right wall. He blew past the Maple Leafs’ defense and broke in alone on Gerber, deking to his backhand to pot his league-leading 51st goal of the season with 20.3 seconds left.
The Caps grabbed a point in the final moment to pull even with New Jersey for second place in the Eastern Conference standings, but this was Joseph’s night - however abbreviated it was.
“It was a big point, but then you look at the overtime there and we could have had two,” Theodore said. “That was pretty impressive by Cujo there - he showed what 20 years of experience means.”
Notes - The Caps recalled goaltender Daren Machesney from Hershey of the American Hockey League and sent netminder Simeon Varlamov to the Bears. Washington plays only one game in the next week, so sending Varlamov down lets him gain more experience and saves the team a little bit of room under the salary cap. …
Defenseman Brian Pothier was a healthy scratch for the second time since returning last week from a concussion. Left wing Donald Brashear missed his seventh straight game with a sprained knee.