Sports Hockey

Leafs stand pat, fall flat 0

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
Maple Leafs forward Nikolai Kulemin charges in toward Panthers goaltender Jose Theodore at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Feb. 28, 2012. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI Agency)

Maple Leafs forward Nikolai Kulemin charges in toward Panthers goaltender Jose Theodore at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Feb. 28, 2012. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI Agency)

TORONTO - 

Brian Burke decided against making any significant player moves on Monday before the National Hockey League's trade deadline kicked in.

So after the Maple Leafs general manager stood pat, why would anyone be surprised that it was more of the same on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre?

With the Florida Panthers filling the visitors' uniforms, the Leafs, with the alleged searing worry that comes with the deadline gone, couldn't have been less interested.

There was your garden-variety bad defensive play, sub-par goaltending by James Reimer, and no inspired attack at the other end.

The RE/MAX balloon floating around the stands during the intermissions had more oomph than the Leafs, who lost 5-3.

A loud 'Fire Wilson' chant went up during the third period, and it's not just the fans who might want the head coach gone.

At best, there's a rather large disconnect between Ron Wilson and his players right now. At worst, the Leafs can't be bothered playing for him.

"It's frustrating, but it's understandable," Wilson, coaching in his 1,400th NHL game, said of the chants.

"Everybody is frustrated right now. We did not do anything at the trade deadline and we came out tentative, to say the least, and got behind early. We weren't ready to start the game. There is no pressure anymore. This is a positive pressure to get into the playoff race and going from there. We did not help ourselves at all."

Both captain Dion Phaneuf and defenceman Luke Schenn dismissed the idea that the players and Wilson aren't on the same wavelength.

"When things don't go well, fingers get pointed at a lot of different areas throughout the team," Phaneuf said. "We're definitely on the same page as our coaching staff but we have to do a better job of starting games."

Said Schenn, whose first-shift gaffe led to goal by the Panthers: "The coaching is not going to change. It's not Ron's fault we're going out there and making bad plays."

The Leafs have 19 games remaining, and have lost nine of their past 10 heading into a tilt on Wednesday night in Chicago against the Blackhawks.

There's another little piece of embarrassment facing the Leafs after their fifth consecutive loss. Since the lockout that killed the 2004-05 season, only two clubs -- the Leafs and Panthers -- have not participated in the Stanley Cup playoffs. With 72 points, Florida is a lot closer than Toronto. So it's a dubious achievement that the Leafs could have all to themselves in April. Lovely.

The Leafs remain in 10th place in the Eastern Conference with 65 points. They are four points out of eighth, as Washington beat the New York Islanders on Tuesday. What's more, the Tampa Bay Lightning now is just one point behind Toronto.

It ain't looking good, folks.

Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin and Joffrey Lupul scored for the Leafs. Mike Santorelli, with two, Marcel Goc, Jason Garrison and Stephen Weiss scored for Florida.

The ugliness to begin the game was as stunning as it was quick.

Schenn coughed up the puck while the ice still was wet, and the Panthers took advantage. Goc took a pass from Wojtek Wolski and beat Reimer 13 seconds in.

Barely two minutes later, Florida rubbed it in further.

Mike Komisarek, a healthy scratch for 10 of the previous 12 games, had just nailed Krys Barch with an open-ice hit. But soon after, Komisarek pinched as the Panthers broke out of their zone. Tim Connolly was not quite fast enough to get back and take out Santorelli, who banged the puck past Reimer after a pass from Jack Skille at 2:21.

It was the fifth consecutive game the Leafs fell behind 2-0, and it was the fastest two goals for the Panthers in their history to start an away game.

From there, the Leafs could not recover.

"There's not much more breaking down you can do," Phaneuf said. "We just have not started good enough for this time of year. We're putting ourselves behind and it's hurting us."


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