ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland -- If you've seen the old western about the lone trooper who holds the fort until the cavalry shows up, you know the story of the St. John's Maple Leafs' 6-1 win over the visiting Skipjacks last night.
Maple Leafs goaltender Damian Rhodes played the lead role, turning aside chance after scoring chance by Baltimore, allowing his teammates time to regroup and score five unanswered goals after the teams found themselves tied at 1 late in the second period.
Mike MacWilliam led the Leafs with two goals. Rookies Todd Gillingham, Andrew McKim, Dave Tomlinson and Yanic Perreault also scored for St. John's, which has won four in a row for the first time this season.
But the story line in this one was built around Rhodes, who stopped 35 of 36 Skipjacks shots, allowing only John Purves' second-period goal.
When the season began, rookie Felix Potvin was the story in goal for St. John's. Rhodes was thought of as the solid backup who would get 25 to 30 starts in relief of Potvin.
But because of injuries to Potvin and to Rick Wamsley and Grant Fuhr in Toronto, Rhodes has become the AHL Leafs goaltending mainstay. With his appearance last night, he's guaranteed to be the team's season leader in minutes played by a goalie.
"I never thought I'd get to play this much," said Rhodes, who has started seven straight games, going 5-1-1. "I can't say I'm not pleased."
The Skipjacks wish it hadn't turned out this way.
"Rhodes was outstanding," said defenseman Dennis Smith. "I thought we outplayed them for two periods, but he kept them in the game. Then the mistakes started costing us.
"On every one of their goals there was one mistake by someone on our team. It's not that we aren't working hard. All through this bad streak, our guys have been giving the effort. But if we keep making mental errors, the hard work won't mean anything."
The teams were scoreless in the first period, but that all changed early in the second.
The Leafs' Tomlinson opened the scoring at the 31-second mark on a whirl-around shot that found its way past a screened Byron Dafoe, starting in goal for the Skipjacks.
Five minutes later, Baltimore's Purves wristed one past Rhodes for his 36th of the year. But on at least four other chances in the period, Purves, one of the league's best shooters, was stymied by Rhodes.
At one point, after the St. John's goaltender had denied him again, Purves stood staring, finally conceding Rhodes' excellence with a little tap on the pads.
St. John's regained the lead before the period was over, taking advantage of a Skipjacks' turnover with MacWilliam scoring the eventual game-winner, a high-riser to Dafoe's glove side.
The third period was all St. John's on the scoring column, as
Perreault, MacWilliam with his second, Gillingham and McKim scored to put the contest away.
The loss was Baltimore's sixth in a row and fourth straight on the current road trip through the Atlantic Division.
"It's getting harder to put the brakes on this skid," said Smith. "We're playing with a lot of guys hurt, but I'm also afraid we've lost the killer instinct."
They'll get another chance to halt the slide this afternoon when FTC they play St. John's in the second game of the weekend series.