Leafs get bit by Coyotes

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

Curtis Joseph was greeted by the odd boo when he stepped on to the Air Canada Centre ice for the first time in almost four years last night.

And after being beaten three times in the first period, the former Maple Leafs goaltender started hearing a few mocking chants of "Cu-jo, Cu-jo!" from the crowd of 19,520, a regular-season record.

But by the time this one was over, the embittered throng had redirected its collective venom at the home town Maple Leafs -- and with good reason.

Up 3-0 at the first intermission, the sloppy Leafs self-destructed and blew their early advantage en route to a devastating 4-3 loss to Joseph's Phoenix Coyotes in a penalty-filled affair.

After watching his team come totally unglued, coach Pat Quinn could very much understand why the jeers rained down from the rafters as the players sheepishly made their way to the dressing room after the final horn.

"We couldn't even complete a pass at the end," said Quinn, whose Leafs have dropped three of their past four. "You can give their team credit, but the outcome was more of our own doing.

"It was like our guys thought, 'Oh, we're up 3-0, we'll just fatten ourselves up and won't have to work any more.' In the end, with that attitude, we ended up getting squat. It was 3-0 and we wanted to play easy, like we thought it was a cake walk. And we ended up paying for it."

Quinn pointed to an incident early in the second period as the turning point in the game.

Carlo Colaiacovo, who joined Jason Allison and Tomas Kaberle as part of the Leafs' first-period scoring parade, flattened Mike Comrie with a clean hit. The Coyotes took exception and started a scrum, which led to 10-minute misconducts to Allison and Steve Gainey.

The Leafs appeared to lose their focus after the fracas. That included goalie Ed Belfour, who hacked down the Coyotes' Shane Doan in front of the net and was slapped with a two-minute minor.

"The momentum changed after that," Belfour said. "I might be strong, but a 240-pound man shouldn't go down that easy."

Buoyed by the ensuing power play, Phoenix started its improbable comeback.

Stealing a page from coach Wayne Gretzky, who could change the outcome of a game in the blink of an eye, the Coyotes struck quickly and often.

Power play goals by Paul Mara and Geoff Sanderson just 16 seconds apart brought the visitors to within 3-2.

Lightning struck again early in the third when Phoenix needed only 13 seconds to take the lead on goals by Ladislav Nagy and Fredrik Sjostrom.

"When you have a 3-0 lead, you shouldn't lose the game," captain Mats Sundin said. "I don't care who we're playing. I thought (Cujo) had a good game but we lost it more than they won it."

Joseph made 25 saves while Belfour turned aside 24 Coyote shots.

Joseph, by the way, is now 2-0 against his former team since leaving the Leafs on July 2, 2002.

REPORT CARD

C Forwards: Fell asleep at the beginning of the second period when Phoenix registered the first 10 shots on goal.

D Defence: Seemed to disappear after the first period. Won't win many games by continuously coughing up the puck.

C+ Goaltending: Belfour's rebound control was an issue at times, but he didn't have a lot of help in front of him.


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