(Reuters) - Toronto snapped the Pittsburgh Penguins’ five-game winning streak when Phil Kessel scored his league leading 10th goal of the season to hand the Maple Leafs a 4-3 win in a clash of division leaders on Saturday.
Kessel settled the roller coaster affair when he took a pass from Tim Connolly in front of the Penguins goal and fired a low wrist shot past visiting goalie Brent Johnson midway through the third period.
“He (Connolly) made a great play,” Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson told reporters. “You could see that whole thing develop. Phil’s eyes were as good as saucers when he saw the gap. Timmy didn’t even hesitate. He fired it right over. Perfect pass.”
Pittsburgh, the NHL’s busiest team playing their 13th game of the season, was without center Jordan Staal who has six goals due to a lower body injury and unable to generate enough offense to rally from a single goal deficit a fourth time.
“It was tough. To come back three times is a lot to ask,” Penguins forward Craig Adams said. “To come back a fourth time was too much to ask. We poured it on at the end and had some good chances, but couldn’t get another one past them.”
Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson, making his third consecutive start in place of injured James Reimer, made 34 stops including 16 in the decisive third period for his third win.
“We can see that he needed to play and because of this injury, he’s feeling confident,” Wilson said. “He’s made a number of big saves when we needed them and he’s been a lot more confident handling the puck.”
Toronto scored the only goal of the first period on the powerplay with a tip-in by Mikhail Grabovski.
Penguins Matt Cooke and Chris Kunitz countered either side of Connolly’s first goal as a Maple Leaf in the second period to send the game into the final period tied at 2-2.
Clarke MacArthur restored the Maple Leafs’ lead early in the third period, but two successive Toronto penalties allowed Evgeni Malkin to score the equalizer with a two-man advantage with a low blast from the blueline.
The Atlantic Division leading Penguins (8-3-2) will look to rebound when they take on the San Jose Sharks at home on Thursday.
The win allowed the Maple Leafs (7-2-1) to extend their lead in the Northeast division over the Buffalo Sabres (6-4-0).
Reporting by Mike Mouat in Windsor, Ontario; Editing by John O'Brien