Of all the places for the Maple Leafs to come up small ...
In Philadelphia, in May, with control of a 2-2 playoff series on the line, trying to end a string of one-goal games at the Wachovia Center, where team psyche is already battered.
But on the 37th anniversary of their most recent Stanley Cup, the Leafs seemed bent on stretching the drought to 38. Where the village elders have been the force on Pat Quinn's club, they came unglued yesterday, mustering just 11 shots in a 7-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semi-final is tomorrow night at the Air Canada Centre.
"That (veteran letdown) is the disappointing part ... we looked like Swiss cheese out there after a while," Quinn said. "We got behind early and just had no semblance of pulling our game back. We abandoned the fundamental part of our game as we did last year (a 6-1 Game 7 loss in Philly)."
Defenceman Bryan McCabe admitted to probably having "my worst game as a professional," a minus-5 triggered by his second consecutive game-opening gaffe that led to a Flyers goal.
He was on for six Philly goals in total, but at least he survived the game. Defenceman Ken Klee limped off after one shift in the second period with an undisclosed injury, a potentially damaging development for Game 6.
"It snowballed on me from giving one away early," McCabe said. "It can't get much worse. We can't give them too many gifts (in Game 6), like we did -- like I did -- (yesterday).
Asked if he was hiding a foot injury from Game 2, McCabe said: "I have no excuses."
Neither starting goalie finished -- Flyers' Robert Esche because of a suspected concussion, and Leafs' Ed Belfour who was wisely yanked after six goals on 18 shots before he could implode. Trevor Kidd allowed Keith Primeau's hat-trick goal as Toronto matched its worst goals-against in a playoff loss in 11 years and helped the revitalized Flyers to a team record for fewest shots surrendered.
"If you go through our lineup, we made a lot of mistakes," captain Mats Sundin said in defence of McCabe.
Mark Recchi was the recipient of the key McCabe giveaway 3:51 into the game, intercepting a cross-ice pass to break in alone on Belfour. Michal Handzus, with two, and Branko Radivojevic, had the other Flyers goals.
Joe Nieuwendyk, back from a three-game absence with back spasms, won his first three defensive zone faceoffs and scored the Leafs' first goal, with Gary Roberts getting the other.
The Leafs were in this exact position heading home last year -- Travis Green scoring in double overtime of Game 6 in Toronto, which preceded the Philly meltdown.
Quinn sat Robert Reichel with Nieuwendyk back and could try a shakeup tomorrow.
What galled Quinn was how Nieuwendyk's late first-period goal -- Toronto's only chance on Esche -- was answered so meekly on the opening shift of the second when the Flyers cut through Sundin's line and the defence pairing of Aki Berg and Bryan Marchment for their back-breaking fourth goal.
Philadelphia borrowed a huge page from Toronto's Game 3 and 4 strategy and took the middle of the ice from the Leafs.
"I expected us to be good and we've kept home ice," Recchi said. "We have a chance to go and redeem ourselves."
Within four minutes of the opening faceoff, Bryan McCabe's cross-ice pass attempt to defence partner Brian Leetch just inside the Maple Leafs blue line was snapped up by Mark Recchi, who broke in alone to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Philly then widened the gap to 3-0 before the Leafs had even registered their first shot.
Leafs: What the heck was that?
LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun
, Last Updated: 4:03 PM ET