TORONTO — When a lead evaporated in 58 seconds and a goal was taken off the board on a coach’s challenge, it looked like it just wasn’t the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ night. Again.
Then Joffrey Lupul scored twice, James Reimer found his groove as the Leafs picked up their first home victory of the season by beating the Dallas Stars 4-1 on Monday night at Air Canada Centre.
"That’s really been the story is just not getting those favourable bounces or hitting posts or getting goals disallowed," said Nazem Kadri, who assisted on Lupul’s second goal. "Tonight was one of those nights where we were able to battle a little bit of adversity."
Lupul scoring goals 198 and 199 of his NHL career helped overcome a soft goal Reimer allowed early and what looked like a snowball effect of bad breaks.
The Leafs (2-7-2) carried the play at times but managed to weather the Dallas onslaught thanks in large part to Reimer. Starting in place of banged-up Jonathan Bernier, he atoned for giving up a bad goal by making 43 saves to snap the Stars’ winning streak at three.
"I feel like I’ve been playing well this season, not getting a couple bounces," Reimer said. "Tonight I got a couple bounces, a couple posts and a couple that managed to hit me when I was sprawling."
With Dallas (9-3-0) on a roll starting its four-game road trip, Toronto kept leading scorers Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin from inflicting too much damage. Seguin fed Benn for his league-leading 10th goal in the first, but the duo was quiet after that.
"I think we had our chances," Seguin said. "We gave them a few, myself included, didn’t bear down, but we had opportunities of scoring."
The Leafs made the most of their chances as Brad Boyes scored his first goal with the Leafs and Morgan Rielly added an exclamation point in the final seconds. Antti Niemi allowed four goals, but Stars coach Lindy Ruff blamed his defence for breakdowns.
"I don’t know if we deserved to win," Ruff said. "We had a couple of missed assignments right in front of our own net and that can change the game."
It did, enough that the Leafs didn’t fall victim to the same letdowns that had doomed them at many points this season. They kept up the pressure and it paid off with goals by Lupul at even strength and then on the power play.
"Lupes, he’s been working really hard this year, I think, and he’s been doing a lot of good things," Reimer said. "I think that’s a case where when you do the right things long enough, eventually you get some results."
That was definitely the case for Reimer who earned another start Wednesday against the Winnipeg Jets, coach Mike Babcock said. Reimer frustrated the Stars, especially early in the third period when he denied Patrick Sharp from in close and forced Valeri Nichushkin wide on a penalty shot.
"There was a couple of times when he made some key saves," Dallas defenceman Johnny Oduya said. "I think we could have made a better job in getting some more traffic and putting some more pucks at him, but tremendous job by him. I’m not going to take that away from him."
The Stars had been one of the league’s best teams coming into the game, and though Babcock wasn’t terribly pleased with how his team matched up, he’ll take the win.
"They’re hard to handle, but our goaltending was good tonight and gave us an opportunity to have some success," Babcock said.
Notes — Leafs forward Nick Spaling returned after missing three games with a lower-body injury. … Ajax, Ont., native Devin Shore was a healthy scratch for the Stars after getting his first call-up to the NHL over the weekend and could make his debut Tuesday at the Boston Bruins. … Kadri has registered at least a point in each of his six games against Dallas.