Leafs 3 v. Panthers 7: Typical
Oh brother. This was a typical Leafs effort for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is their penchant for following up a tremendous effort with an absolute stinker. The more painful reason is that, as I have bemoaned, former Maple Leafs led the way in killing the Leafs. Gary Roberts potted two goals including the fourth less than 30 seconds into the second period which effectively sealed the win. Eddie Belfour stopped 33 of 36 shots including a handful of 'sure' goals. The Florida Panthers have some sort of voodoo over the Leafs and it has led to four lost points that will hurt come April.
I went out for dinner so I only caught snippets of the game when I was rude enough to glance up at the television but I was able to discern that the Leafs played terribly. The leader of it all was Hal Gill who had the type of game that Bruins' fans had warned us about when he signed. He has been solid this year by keeping things simple but both goals came on turnovers when he was trying to be cute with the puck. I joke that Gill just passes the puck to White or rifles it up the boards but it has worked this year. Unfortunately, the first goal came when Gill lost the puck while stickhandling and the second came when he tried to make an audacious cross-ice pass.
Raycroft got the hook and his stats suffered but this was a game that was lost by the play in front of him. The real turning point came in the first. Jeff O'Neill gave the Leafs a lead with a nice goal on a jam play from behind the goal-line and the Leafs were subsequently given two more powerplays. Goals on either of these would have gone a long way to breaking the Panthers' spirit but they ended up coming close to disastrous as the Panthers got the best chance.
In the end, Maurice summed it up well by saying that they were too soft and too slow. The Leafs will rue these lost points in April but hopefully only because it costs them a higher seed and not playoff participation. The Leafs look to get back on track this weekend but it will not be easy. They travel to Chicago to take on Leaf-killer Denis Savard and his resurgent Blackhawks. They have returned to their early form with the return of Martin Havlat and Nikolai Khabibulin's recent strong goaltending. On Saturday night, the Leafs host Alexanders Semin and Ovechkin which is no small task.
Prior to the Canadiens game I thought that a 3-7 record over the next 10 games was the worst case scenario for the Leafs. Right now they stand at 3-4-1 with three tough challenges ahead. They will have to put this game behind them and get back to what has made them successful this season: hard work and lots of puck pressure.