TORONTO (AP) — Don't count Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle among those anxiously awaiting the upcoming Winter Classic — not even after his club beat the Carolina Hurricanes.
Phil Kessel scored twice, reaching the 20-goal plateau for the sixth straight season, to help the Maple Leafs top the Hurricanes 5-2 on Sunday night.
The game marked the halfway point of the season for Toronto (20-16-5) and was its last outing before Wednesday's outdoor Winter Classic against Detroit at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"I wasn't waving the pom-poms to be involved with it to start with," Carlyle said. "We haven't played as well as we'd like to hang our hat on. Our group, we believe, has got lots of room to grow, so that always put added pressure on. Then you're much more under the microscope if you can believe it.
"We're here to win hockey games, and that's the most important thing."
Toronto has earned points in five straight games.
Nikolai Kulemin, Paul Ranger and Dion Phaneuf, with an empty-net goal with 8 seconds remaining, also scored for Toronto.
Nathan Gerbe and Justin Faulk had goals for Carolina (14-16-9), which has lost five straight including two in overtime.
Jonathan Bernier made 41 saves as Carolina outshot Toronto 43-27.
Tyler Bozak returned to the Maple Leafs' top line after a 12-game absence due to an oblique injury. He showed off his playmaking skills with three assists and made an important backcheck to thwart a Hurricanes threat.
Maple Leafs forward David Clarkson went to the dressing room in the second period after apparently hitting the boards, but returned in the third and smashed Tuomo Ruutu to the ice.
"Probably the best period of hockey he's played for us," Carlyle said.
The Maple Leafs' previous four games were shootouts — a club-record streak that featured two wins and two losses.
Coming into the game, Carolina had only won one of eight, a stretch that featured four overtime losses.
"We had enough chances to win a hockey game," Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. "The chances were there. They scored and we didn't."
Carlyle agreed that his club had a loose performance.
"I thought at times we seemed like we were overmatched in a lot of areas," he said.
The Hurricanes followed a popular, simple strategy against Toronto — dumping the puck in and forcing the Leafs to play defense.
"We haven't been able to handle that or manage the game properly in that area, and we have to get better at it," Carlyle said.
After surviving a poor start against Buffalo to win via a shootout Friday, it seemed like more of the same Sunday for the Leafs.