|Toronto Maple Leafs' James Reimer makes a save against Tampa Bay Lightning's Dominic Moore. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)
TORONTO - On Toronto Hydro Night, the lights went out on Colby Armstrong, James Reimer and, quite possibly, the Maple Leafs' playoff hopes.
Coach Ron Wilson didn't try to hush up Armstrong's shot-block injury after the 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, somberly reporting the two-way winger was likely gone for the rest of the season with a broken foot. That season might only have a 12-game lifespan after the Leafs failed to gain on eighth-place New York, burning their game in hand.
"All you have to do is look at our record with Colby in the lineup," Wilson said. "It's been unfortunately one of those years for him, breaking things, a mysterious eye ailment, stuff like that. There's not much we can do now. There are other people who have to fill in for him."
"We stay positive and move ahead to the next game (Wednesday) in Carolina."
The Bolts, completing their first ever four-game sweep of the Leafs, held Toronto in 10th spot, six back of the last spot. The Leafs can still catch ninth-place Carolina with a win there, but need lots of help in front and below in the standings.
"We keep coming back to these must-win games," centre Tim Brent said. "Same as Florida (on Thursday). We need to buckle down and make every point count."
But since beating Buffalo on Saturday, the Leafs have been getting nothing but bad news on the out-of-town board. And Monday, they were done in by lesser known Lightning skaters such as Mattias Ritola (two goals), Teddy Purcell (three assists) and Mike Lundin (first of the season).
"Their coach (Guy Boucher) talked about secondary scoring today and probably put some pressure on those guys," Brent said. "They won a few key battles in front of our net that ended up costing us goals."
Since Feb. 1, the Leafs have gone 11-5-5 and turned some heads around the NHL. But a combination of a heavy schedule of playoff-bound teams and Reimer starting to tire has begun to show.
"It's frustrating," said Reimer, lifted after five goals against on 29 shots for Jean-Sebastien Giguere. "I don't know if it was not getting the bounces or not seeing pucks, but bottom line, I didn't get the job done."
Matters the Leafs can control, such as poor starts and a weak power play, have also been their undoing. For the first time in at least two seasons, the Leafs didn't have to kill a penalty, but were 0-for-3 on the power play.
The Leafs had a terrible middle period for a second straight game, surrendering three goals with a positive result still in reach. Though they tied it 1-1 on Dion Phaneuf's fifth of the year and eighth point in the past 10 games, little-known Ritola was in the right place twice to beat Reimer. Ritola went high on Reimer on his second one, where Nate Thompson also went in the first period and where many rivals have begun concentrating their fire on the rookie.
Reimer also had too many Bolts in his face, which Wilson said he would remedy with call-up Matt Lashoff, starting in the game against the Canes. Brett Lebda and Mike Komisarek have struggled.
"We need to get more minutes out of fifth and sixth defencemen -- quality minutes -- so our top four don't poop out," Wilson said
It was the Leafs' fourth loss in their past five games. Nikolai Kulemin briefly made it 3-2 and to that point, the Lightning's big guns hadn't done anything. Boucher's gamble to play Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis on one line had been turned back by the checking unit of Darryl Boyce, Armstrong and Joey Crabb, plus Phaneuf and Keith Aulie. But Purcell helped get a puck on net for Lecavalier to jam in and St. Louis and Stamkos had assists on the last two goals. Giguere was beaten by Lundin.
To their credit, lightweight Leafs such as Phil Kessel and Mikhail Grabovski were trying to generate traffic in front of Dwayne Roloson early in the game, but Roly The Goalie has had the Leafs number a few times in his career, going back to the 1999 Eastern final against Buffalo.