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Caps lose to Maple Leafs, 6-3

Courtesy of AP | 12/13/2009, 12:23 p.m.

TORONTO (AP) -- Matt Stajan had two goals and an assist to help Toronto beat the Washington Capitals 6-3 on Saturday night, Dec. 12, giving the Maple Leafs three straight wins at home for the first time since January 2008.

Phil Kessel, Niklas Hagman, Lee Stempniak and Alexei Ponikarovsky also scored for Toronto, 7-3-0 in its last 10 games and 11-14-7 overall. Kessel also had two assists.

Nicklas Backstrom scored twice, and Alex Ovechkin added a goal for Washington (20-7-6), which lost for the second time this season in Toronto.

Stajan scored the decisive goal at 5:03 of the third period, giving Toronto a 4-3 lead by burying a rebound behind Michal Neuvirth. Stempniak provided a key insurance goal by getting behind Ovechkin and scoring short-handed at 9:44.

Toronto was playing for the eighth time in 13 days, but was still better rested than the visitors. After beating Carolina on Friday night, Washington's flight to Toronto was cancelled when sparks started to fly on its plane prior to takeoff. The team flew on the morning of the game instead.

However, Leafs coach Ron Wilson didn't think it would slow down the Caps.

"I don't think it will have any effect," he said after the morning skate. "Sometimes the routine doesn't mean a damn thing. Players hide behind that. If they go on and have a good game, don't be surprised if they're not flying on the morning of games, if they can get to places, the rest of the year."

Washington may have proved him right with a fast start that was helped by an unusual call from referee Dan O'Halloran, who penalized Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala for freezing the puck outside his crease. Ovechkin promptly one-timed home his 21st goal of the season just 2 minutes in.

The Caps then went ahead 2-0 when Backstrom converted Ovechkin's pass at 5:15 - the first of two similar-looking goals the linemates would hook up on.

Toronto was fortunate the lead didn't grow more than that as Brendan Morrison missed an empty net on a 2-on-1 and Toskala turned away Alexander Semin on a breakaway. Toskala stopped the Russian on another breakaway in the third period.

The Leafs comeback started when Stajan knocked a rebound behind Neuvirth at 1:29 of the second period before Kessel beat the young Czech goalie with a wrist shot during a 5-on-3 power play at 5:54.

Suddenly, the Air Canada Centre was alive with an energy rarely seen since opening night. Backstrom and Hagman traded goals before the intermission and the crowd came to its feet to give the Leafs a rarely seen standing ovation after 40 minutes.

The volume only got amplified as the Leafs polished off the win in the third period, eliciting enthusiastic chants of "Go Leafs Go!" as the clock wound down. Ponikarovsky rewarded them by scoring with 39.3 seconds remaining in the game.

NOTES: It was the seventh career NHL game for Neuvirth, a 21-year-old Czech. ... The Caps are 8-0-0 against the Southeast Division this season and 12-7-6 against everyone else. ... Cynthia Dale, wife of CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge, sang the national anthems. ... Former Leafs captain Darryl Sittler watched the game from press row.

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