Leafs' OT loss a blow to playoff chances

Canadiens forward Scott Gomez celebrates his goal behind Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek (L)....

Canadiens forward Scott Gomez celebrates his goal behind Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek (L). (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

The Maple Leafs haven't given fans at the Air Canada much to cheer about in 2009, or this entire decade if you're talking about title banners.

So it was fitting the last home game before the calendar flips over would have another L beside it. Despite 49 shots on Jaroslav Halak, the Leafs fell 3-2 in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens, the ninth time they've forfeited the extra point this year and fifth game against a Northeast Division foe, all potential nails in their playoff coffin.

Andrei Kostitsyn found a hole under Jonas Gustavsson's arm on the first shift of the extra period as Toronto's losing streak hit three games, with prospects for a fourth likely in Pittsburgh tonight against the well-rested Stanley Cup champions.

LITTLE CONSOLATION

The single point, outshooting the Habs by more than a 2-1 margin and coming back from a 2-0 hole -- the 19th time this year they've fallen behind by that count -- was of little consolation when looking at the mountain of teams they must scale.

"At this point in the season, you have to take something from these games," said Ian White, whose second-period goal started the Toronto rally. "We can't be giving divisional opponents these points. We give up two early goals, we're sleeping. Fortunately enough, there's still a lot of time."

However with the halfway point of the schedule coming this week, it's going to get tight in a hurry.

"Maybe if we would win an overtime game (Toronto has one shootout win) we would have more confidence," Gustavsson suggested. "I think it's going to turn around and we'll win a couple in overtime."

Winger Phil Kessel, with five shots and five missed shots last night as his season-high pointless slump reached five games, agreed the Leafs should review some 4-on-4 hockey basics. Montreal, which won at the ACC in OT on opening night, looked very at ease as they controlled play from the faceoff and proceeded to win. Gustavsson said he was having trouble seeing through a couple of Habs on the winner and didn't see Kostitsyn's puck until too late.

After reaching their NHL-leading average of 33 shots a game in just two periods, the Leafs had beat Halak only once.

"I'm not going to say we deserved a better fate," said Jason Blake, who went hard to the net on his tying goal early in the third. "Halak's playing well (six goals against in four straight wins to put the Habs back on playoff footing) and that was the word before the game."

It was the sixth time this season the Leafs have had more than 40 shots in a game, yet they've lost each one.

Gustavsson had lasted one period in the Leafs net on Dec. 1 in Montreal before his irregular heartbeat led to a trip to the hospital, as the Leafs closed ranks and helped Joey MacDonald to a shared 3-0 shutout. But this time, Montreal was up two at the 4:28 mark. Momentum changed quickly when the Leafs were hemmed in on three straight breakout attempts, mostly because of tentative clearing attempts by Luke Schenn. On the third try, Schenn was called for high-sticking and after some great Gustavsson saves in tight, Scott Gomez stuffed in a rebound.

On the next rush, quick Montreal passing with Andrei Markov to a streaking Tomas Plekanec netted the latter his team high 44th point. At that stage, the Leafs were having trouble connecting even on two-foot passes.

Toronto's other problem is a sliding power play, with just one goal in the past 19 chances.

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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