Leafs get the point

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:16 AM ET

ATLANTA -- March Madness is about to become April Apprehension for the Maple Leafs.

They departed Philips Arena last night, cursing a last-minute 3-2 Thrashers' overtime power-play winner on a disputed penalty, losing the game in hand they held on several teams in the Eastern Conference race without reaching the top eight.

Toronto has five games remaining to make up the one point now separating it from Montreal and Tampa Bay, while trying to fend off Carolina and the Islanders. But as coach Paul Maurice said once his anger subsided, "We keep hanging around (in the standings) ... we have to look at the big picture of the past three games (five points). It's not a great feeling right now, but we'll take it."

The Thrashers, going full bore for top spot in the Southeast Division and their first playoff trip, faced a Leafs team that evened a pair of one-goal deficits. Nik Antropov set up defenceman Hal Gill for the tying goal in regulation with what had to be the biggest Leafs goal in history in terns of player height. The 6-foot-6 Antropov drew four Thrashers to the slot and slipped it to the open 6-foot-7 Gill, with the 6-foot-4 Mats Sundin getting the other assist.

"Outstanding," Maurice said. "It was a size-hands play."

But Antropov was also called for hooking Ilya Kovalchuk on a breakaway in overtime, one that Andrew Raycroft stopped. Slava Kozlov ended it 47 seconds shy of a shootout.

"They did the same thing to John Pohl in the third period and to Mats in overtime," Antropov complained. "And I didn't even hook him. It's a tough way to lose."

The game was a physical grind with the Thrashers targeting speedy Leafs such as Boyd Devereaux.

"They were coming hard," Devereaux agreed. "But at this time of year, you have to take the hit to make the play."

Sundin hit the post in the second period, but his assist maintained an impressive streak of not going three games without a point in more than a calendar year. But he remains stalled a goal behind Darryl Sittler for the franchise lead.

"It always bugs you not to score and for me it's bad timing in the middle of a playoff race," Sundin said. "We had tons of chances on all lines."

Thankfully, the Leafs have stopped asking Sittler to accompany them on the road in anticipation of Sundin tying or breaking his record of 389. Before the game, the captain was not getting carried away with slumps or prognosticating the standings.

"We just have to focus on playing the game in front of us," Sundin said. "We can't control it, but I think we should be pleased at what we've done the past couple of weeks, playing better defensively and doing a lot of good things with all four lines."

The Leafs, who had been potting early goals of late, gave up one on a power-play to Marian Hossa just 28 seconds after Pavel Kubina went to the box.

Two Toronto power plays failed before Pohl got up a head of steam from quick passes via Ian White and Yanic Perreault and snapped his 12th of the year through Hedberg's legs.

Last night marked Toronto's final game of the regular season against the Southeast Division, a grouping against which Toronto has had incredible success since hockey returned to the Deep South in the 1990s. Its combined record against the Thrashers, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning is 73-29-10-3.


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