TORONTO -- Right winger Phil Kessel scored twice, but the three assists from his linemate, center Tyler Bozak, were a big deal for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their 5-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.
Bozak, playing for the first time since Dec. 3, assisted on both of Kessel's goals and one by defenseman Paul Ranger. He is one of several players the Leafs are getting back from injury as the season heads into the second half.
"It was pretty tough for the first couple of shifts," said Bozak, who missed 24 games overall this season due to ribcage and leg injuries. "But we were lucky enough to get one kind of early in the game, and I think that helped a lot and loosened things up so, yeah, it was nice."
Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said, "His first game back, I tried to ease him into the lineup. He's a smart player and he does a lot of little things that don't get noticed on the score sheet, and he puts himself in a position to be the safety valve for the other two players he's playing with."
Left winger Nikolai Kulemin and defenseman Dion Phaneuf also scored for the Maple Leafs, who won their second game in a row. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier was solid with 41 saves.
Center Nathan Gerbe and defenseman Justin Faulk scored for the Hurricanes, whose losing streak reached five games. Goaltender Cam Ward stopped 22 shots for Carolina (14-16-9).
"We fell behind and came back, some of the shots and chances were there," Gerbe said. "It was just mistakes. It was puck management. That changed the whole game. We know the chances were there tonight to score, and we didn't put them in. We didn't help put Cam. Bernier played well, we know he's a good goalie."
The Maple Leafs (20-16-5) grabbed a two-goal lead in the third period when Ranger scored his second of the season on a shot from the blue line at 4:58. It was his 100th career NHL point.
Phaneuf scored into an empty net in the final minute, his fourth goal of the season.
"They capitalized on their chances and we didn't," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. "We had two-on-ones, we had three-on-twos. We had our opportunities, but it didn't happen."
Carlyle said, "They kept a very simple game plan -- they got to the red line and they dumped the puck in, and we refused to do that early in the hockey game for whatever reason. But that seems to be the mandate for teams coming in here, try to force us to play as much defense in our own zone and puck recovery and pinch their D-men down the walls.
"It's no secret, and we haven't been able to manage the game properly in that area, and we've got to get better at it."
The Maple Leafs led 1-0 after the first period, but the Hurricanes needed only 1:36 of the second period to tie it. Gerbe notched his ninth goal of the season with a wrist shot on a pass from right winger Alexander Semin.
Toronto then struck for two quick goals. Kessel scored his second of the game and 20th of the season at 13:42, finishing off a passing combination with left winger James van Riemsdyk and Bozak. Kulemin added to the lead with his fifth goal of the season at 14:58 on a booming 45-foot snap shot.
The Hurricanes cut the lead to one on a power play when Faulk scored his third goal of the season on a slap shot at 17:43. It came with Carolina holding a four-on-three advantage in skaters after Phaneuf was penalized for hooking at 17:12. Semin and Ranger were sent off at 16:55 for roughing and interference, respectively.
Kessel scored his first goal of the game from a bad angle. His backhand from the left side of the net went in off Ward at 16:56 of the first period.
The play began on a faceoff in the Hurricanes' zone. Bozak said he actually lost the draw, but Kessel was able to gain control of the puck.
"I thought we were pretty good, we were all right," Bozak said. "We had some lapses in the D-zone, but we got some good bounces as well. The puck was kind of following us around tonight. It was nice obviously when that happens.
The bounces are not going the Hurricanes' way, but Muller said it is not for a lack of trying.
"We're ready to go every night," he said. "I give them credit for that."
Gerbe, when asked how the team can break out of its funk, said, "Hard work. You just keep working, you don't hang your head."
NOTES: Maple Leafs C Trevor Smith (hand) and C Dave Bolland (ankle), who could resume skating next week, remain on injured reserve. ... Toronto assigned C Jerred Smithson to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL on Sunday. ... Hurricanes LW Jiri Tlusty (appendectomy) will miss three weeks, while D Jay Harrison (concussion) and D Joni Pitkanen (heel) are out indefinitely. ... The Maple Leafs' next game is against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday in the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. ... The Hurricanes return home to play the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.