Gustavsson’s seventh straight victory was one of his most impressive of the season because it came against Lundqvist. The 25-year-old rookie looks up to his Olympic teammate more than any other goalie and he was nervous heading into their first head-to-head NHL matchup.
Leafs coach Ron Wilson sensed the early jitters when Gustavsson let in a couple of shaky goals.
“I wasn’t sure, you know, because that is almost his idol across the way— sometimes that’s good, sometimes it’s bad,” Wilson said. “The first period, it looked like he was nervous. Lundqvist wouldn’t be nervous playing against him.
“But certainly Jonas I’d say was the first star because of the number of saves he had to make along the way to keep us in there.”
In the end, it was Lundqvist who showed some cracks.
After allowing Tomas Kaberle(notes) to score the tying goal from a terrible angle late in regulation, he was beaten on Nikolai Kulemin’s(notes) wraparound 39 seconds into overtime. That left the mild-mannered goalie swearing in the dressing room after the game.
The Rangers are trying to chase down the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and could have used the extra point. However, coach John Tortorella gave Lundqvist a vote of confidence following the loss.
“Hank’s going to be fine,” Tortorella said. “He fights. He’s a battler, and he’s going to be the reason why we get in (to the playoffs).”
Toronto has long been out of playoff contention, but that fact hasn’t kept the team from fighting until the end. The Leafs have victories in nine of 12 games heading into a matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday.
Gustavsson has been one of the guys who has stepped up his play.
He was a hotly pursued free agent after helping Farjestads to the Swedish league crown in the spring. He seems to be blossoming under the guidance of goaltending coach Francois Allaire and the mentorship of veteran J.S. Giguere.
“The more you win, the more confident you get,” Gustavsson said. “It’s still hard work. You can’t just lean back and think you’re going to win just by going out there. You maybe have to prepare maybe even harder when you win a couple in a row to stay in focus.
“I just have to keep playing the best I can the rest of the games.”
The 10th-place Rangers are four points out of eighth place and the postseason cutoff with seven to play. They came out with desperation, forcing Toronto defenders into early turnovers. Parenteau stole the puck high in the Leafs zone and beat Gustavsson with a shot along the ice at 10:25 of the opening period.
“It was a great feeling to get the chance to make up for my first goal, I didn’t get my pad down there,” Gustavsson said. “It was great for me to save those pucks in the second period and help the team.”
It would prove to be especially important when Kaberle tied it 2-2 with a shot from the corner that somehow found its way through Lundqvist. The veteran defenseman looked surprised when he realized the puck crossed the line.
“With four minutes left, you have to just throw it at the net hoping it’s going to go in or somebody’s going to get a rebound,” Kaberle said. “It’s nice to beat teams like that. They’re battling for their lives.”
The veteran defenseman is the only player on the Leafs roster to play in a postseason game with Toronto.
Kaberle has been extremely impressed with what he’s seen from Gustavsson in recent weeks.
“He’s been on his game, you could see it,” he said. “You feel that confidence in the dressing room and the practices. It comes to the games too. When he let’s the puck in, he always bounces back.”
NOTES: The Leafs sat out Garnet Exelby(notes) and Wayne Primeau(notes). … Rangers rookie D Matt Gilroy(notes) was scratched for the first time and was replaced by veteran Anders Eriksson(notes). … Phil Kessel(notes) remained at 29 goals. Mats Sundin(notes) and Alex Mogilny are the only Maple Leafs players to reach the 30-goal mark in 10 years. … The exterior lights at Air Canada Centre were kept off in observance of Earth Hour.