TORONTO -- Jonas Gustavsson did a heck of a lot more than just make his first start since having minor heart surgery for the second time this season.
"I'm so happy to be back on the ice and back playing at home against the Boston Bruins and have my first NHL shutout," Gustavsson said. "That's not something that happens every day."
Tomas Kaberle and Jason Blake each beat Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, a former Toronto prospect the team dealt to the Bruins at the 2006 entry draft in exchange for netminder Andrew Raycroft. Rask has been stellar this season for the Bruins, causing some Leafs fans to lament the fact he plays for a division rival.
But Gustavsson, a 25-year-old Swede who signed as a free agent in the summer, is doing his best to make Toronto fans forget about Rask with some high-quality goaltending of his own.
After sitting out for eight games while recovering from his surgery, Gustavsson saw his first action Friday night in a 5-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, relieving Vesa Toskala. Gustavsson's last start came on Dec. 1 against Montreal and he hadn't allowed a goal when he had to leave the game after one period with an accelerated heartbeat.
Coach Ron Wilson said Gustavsson has maintained focus and demonstrated some determination to work through a series of health issues.
"He's worked really hard," Wilson said. "He hasn't let these medical setbacks bother him at all. He's pretty stable and obviously has some character to have two heart ablations in addition to the groin injury he suffered. He comes back, works hard in practice with [goalie coach Francois Allaire] and I'm really glad we found a way to get him a shutout."
Between dealing with health problems and competing with Toskala for playing time, the start of Gustavsson's NHL career hasn't been easy.
"It was, maybe not what I expected, but you have to take it for what it is and go on and try to work hard when you get a chance to be on the ice," he said. "There's not much else you can do."
Toronto (13-16-7) snapped a two-game losing skid and also ended a seven-game losing stretch against the Bruins (16-10-7) that dated back to the beginning of last season.
"We knew it was a must-win for us," Kaberle said.
Gustavsson, though not overly busy, made a couple key saves in the second period to protect a one-goal lead. First, he denied Byron Bitz on a breakaway from close in after David Krejci hit Bitz with a nice pass from the half-boards. Gustavsson moved quickly to his left, squared up to the shooter and stopped Bitz point-blank.
Then, with Boston trying to tie the game on a power play, Gustavsson shot out his right leg to stop a low, hard shot from Zdeno Chara.
Things turned a bit nasty in the game's late stages when Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk nailed Toronto's Matt Stajan with an open-ice hit that did not draw a penalty. It did, however, draw the attention of many of Stajan's teammates, who quickly came to his defense.
"I didn't see the replay, obviously, but I thought he went after his head," said Kaberle, one of the Leafs who chased down Boychuk. "I don't know. It could have been a clean hit, but I thought when someone gets blood on his face, most of the time is an elbow or something. You have to protect your players and you have to go after guys."
After initially laying motionless, Stajan shook off the hit and returned to the game.
"I was a little dazed," Stajan said. "I saw him last-second, but all the impact is on my head. He kind of jumped at me. I'm just trying to chip it by him and he threw himself at me. I'd have to see the replays to see [whether it was clean], but I thought he jumped at me and went right at my head."
Boychuk said he believed the hit was clean.
"I'm not going to try to hurt anybody by any means," Boychuk said. "I tried to keep my elbow in and everything in so that it would be a clean hit. I've been hit like that before. The way he turned ... he was really low. I didn't see the replay, but I thought it was a clean hit."
Rask allowed a rare soft goal early in the second period when Kaberle beat him with a weak shot from the top of the circle that squeezed through on the short side.
"I just tried to hit the net, low for a rebound on the short side," Kaberle explained. "It bounced off the post and off his leg. I got a little bit lucky there, but sometimes a shot is better than a bad pass."
Toronto clung to that one-goal lead until Blake put a shot high over Rask's glove almost midway through the third.
- One night after scoring his first NHL goal, Leafs rookie Viktor Stalberg took a high stick from Boston's Blake Wheeler in the second period. He returned to play with a full cage in the third.
- Former Bruin Phil Kessel still doesn't have a point against his old team in three games this year.
- Defenseman Adam McQuaid played his first NHL game for the Bruins.