BUFFALO -- No confidence, no brains and no hope.
The Maple Leafs spiralled deeper into a black hole last night in the Queen City, letting an opportunity to move up in the Eastern Conference standings slip away with a sloppy 6-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
Coach Pat Quinn, if he is not there already, has to be near the end of his rope. Leading the club into the abyss were its top players -- the defence pair of Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle, who both committed turnovers that led to Sabres goals, and captain Mats Sundin, who took two penalties in the final four minutes of the second period that negated Leafs power plays. As Sundin was serving his second minor, the Sabres' Derek Roy scored to give Buffalo an insurmountable 4-1 lead with 22 seconds left.
"The confidence level is low, probably for everyone, but now is not the time to frown on it," McCabe said. "We have to get something going. Problem is, we're beating ourselves. On the second goal, I gave it away. Fourth goal, fifth goal, we had the puck every time.
"Things aren't going great, and we have to tough it out."
But the Leafs are running out of time. They play host to the Ottawa Senators tonight, which should be a real ball of fun. The Leafs are 0-6 against their provincial rivals this season.
Toronto would have moved into ninth place in the Eastern Conference with a victory, but instead remain mired in 11th, five points behind the Montreal Canadiens, who hold the eighth and final playoff berth. The Leafs, who have lost four in a row, have 59 points; the Atlanta Thrashers and Boston Bruins have 60 apiece.
Roy, who led the Kitchener Rangers to a Memorial Cup title three years ago, had his first NHL hat trick.
Chris Drury, who was the beneficiary of McCabe's giveaway, Daniel Briere and Thomas Vanek also scored for Buffalo.
The Leafs got goals from Alexei Ponikarovsky and Alex Steen (a goal originally credited to McCabe). Mikael Tellqvist made his first start since Jan. 28.
A day earlier, a number of Leafs said they had not quit on Quinn.
Well, they had a strange way of showing as much.
The Sabres are a quick team, but that does not excuse the fact the Leafs were being outshot 10-1 midway through the first period. They were down 1-0 on a goal by Roy, but it was close only because Tellqvist made some big saves.
Stupid penalties helped kill the Leafs as well. They were shorthanded 10 times and allowed a pair of power-play goals by Roy, but could not score on six power plays.
Tie Domi played in his 1,000th NHL game and later received a signed copy of the gamesheet from Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, who was a roommate of Domi when then they were teammates with the New York Rangers.
"I wouldn't want to say we are a fragile bunch, but we are a group that has a lot of youth in here and unfortunately sometimes you learn from losing," Domi said. "It's a tough way to learn how to win.
"We are going through a stage right now where none of us want to be."
Meanwhile, reports that contract talks between general manager John Ferguson and the agent for McCabe, Jeff Solomon, have soured are incorrect.
The two sides talked again this week and as it stands, the Leafs have no intention of trading McCabe before the NHL trade deadline on Thursday.
D Forwards: The usual occurred, with little in the way of cohesion and pressure. Ryan Miller was not tested often.
D Defence: D is for dumb plays, as in those made by Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle. Your top blueliners have to be better, period
C Goaltending: Mikael Tellqvist wasn't bad, considering he had not played in more than a month. Expect Ed Belfour to be back in tonight against the Senators.