TORONTO (AP) - Phil Kessel, Mikhail Grabovski and the Toronto Maple Leafs have taken off in 2012.
Kessel scored twice and Grabovski assisted on Toronto's first two goals to lead the surging Maple Leafs past the Edmonton Oilers 6-3 on Monday night.
Toronto improved to 10-4-1 since Jan. 1 and vaulted past Ottawa into seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Suddenly, the Maple Leafs are within four points of fourth-place Philadelphia - a team it visits Thursday night - and they have built a four-point cushion over ninth-place Washington.
Not that they've taken much time to notice.
``There's not a whole heck of a lot of scoreboard watching on our part,' Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. ``Just take care of our own business and worry about ourselves. That's kind of our mentality.'
The Oilers played without coach Tom Renney, who stayed back at the team hotel after taking a puck in the head during the morning skate. The cut required stitches and left Renney experiencing headaches. Associate coach Ralph Krueger took over in his absence.
``It wasn't different at all,' Edmonton's Jordan Eberle said. ``They manage the bench the same way. They're both good coaches. They're smart and intelligent.'
Clarke MacArthur, Jake Gardiner, Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul also scored for the Maple Leafs. Kessel added an assist, passing the 300-point plateau for his career.
Eberle scored twice and Jeff Petry had a goal for Edmonton, which lost in regulation for the first time since Jan. 21.
Oilers rookie forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins didn't play after taking a hit from Mike Brown early in the third period. Nugent-Hopkins just returned to the lineup Saturday after missing a month with a shoulder injury.
The team said Nugent-Hopkins was held out as a precaution and would be re-examined Tuesday.
``We wanted to be safe on him,' Krueger said.
Toronto is 5-0-1 in its last six games. Grabovski has led the charge with 12 points during that stretch.
The Maple Leafs haven't qualified for the playoffs since 2004 - the second-longest drought in the NHL. What separates this year from others is the fact that they don't need a miracle finish to end that streak.
``We're playing confident and we're playing well,' Bozak said. ``So we just want to keep worrying about our next game in hand and not look too far ahead and just keep winning.'
A big key during the recent run of success has been the contributions the team is getting from all parts of the lineup. Kessel, the team's leading scorer, had a big night Monday and Grabovski's second unit chipped in as well.
James Reimer entered the game with a long shutout streak after blanking Toronto's previous two opponents, but it ended quickly. Eberle collected a puck in front that Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf was unable to clear and beat Reimer just 21 seconds in.
Sam Gagner picked up the second assist on that play, giving him 12 points in three games dating to his eight-point night against Chicago on Thursday.
Grabovski made sure that early lead didn't stand. He set up MacArthur with a nice touch pass at 7:21 before carrying the puck right around the goal and finding Gardiner in the high slot at 13:45 to give Toronto a 2-1 lead.
``The first shift they scored against my line,' Grabovski said. ``So for us, we just stopped skating I think on the first shift. After (that) we started to work hard and those goals were very important.'
Eberle tied it at 17:30 on tic-tac-toe passing play with Taylor Hall and Petry before scoring his 24th of the season.
The wide-open play continued in the second period.
Kessel scored into an open net after a couple of nice passes at 1:28 before Bozak added to the advantage less than 3 minutes later, stealing the puck from defenseman Cam Barker and flipping the puck past Devan Dubnyk.
Petry scored on a point shot at 13:24 to make it 4-3, but Lupul restored Toronto's two-goal advantage before the intermission. He caught a high shot by Phaneuf and swept it behind Dubnyk, prompting the Oilers' goalie to smash his stick over the crossbar in frustration.
``That fifth goal was the killer,' Hall said.
The Oilers came out hard in the third period, but Reimer stood tall. He robbed Ben Eager off the rush and was fortunate a couple of minutes later when Eberle's shot rang off the post.
Kessel added an empty-net goal to seal the victory.
``You have to go through a hard time to realize what it takes to win,' Reimer said. ``I think we struggled a bit there in December. It really caught us out of wind, per se. We could see firsthand what we were doing wrong and we've really taken it to a man to be better and man up.'
Notes: Toronto is 16-8-4 at home this season. ... The Maple Leafs and Oilers play again in Edmonton on Feb. 15. ... Dubnyk has allowed at least four goals in his past three starts. ... Eberle moved into the top 10 in the NHL in scoring. ... MacArthur is on a five-game point streak. ... Gagner, who grew up in Oakville, Ontario, had 30 friends and family members in the crowd of 19,581. ... Toronto plays at Winnipeg on Tuesday night.
The Associated Press News Service
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