Will Kaberle ever learn?

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:31 PM ET


 Lost on a night of injuries and shock was another ill-timed playoff gaffe by Tomas Kaberle.

 A game, and maybe a series, turned on a quick decision gone wrong in a matter of seconds.

 That was long before Mats Sundin had gone down. That was before the absence of Joe Nieuwendyk had made an impact the outcome.

 The kind of soft play Kaberle should have outgrown after all these years but continues to make, playoff season after playoff season.

 It happened two years ago against Carolina. It happened last year in the Philadelphia series.

 It happened Wednesday night in Ottawa.

 In Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final, before the Maple Leafs collapsed, before they ended up short-handed, before the score went one-sided, while they still had the lead, they won a faceoff and then the whole series changed. Just like that.

 "We had the momentum and we just gave it back," said Pat Quinn, who is the only NHL coach Kaberle has ever had.

 When asked if he doubted his defenceman's ability to get the job done in the games that matter most, Quinn barely paused before answering: "Well, that's a good question."

 Indeed it is.

 Highlights aside, almost every hockey game comes down to hundreds of small decisions.

 How they're made. When they're made. And what happens because they're made.

 Kaberle, for whatever reason, seems cursed with a terrible sense of timing. When he makes a boo-boo, it somehow turns out to be a big one.

 The Leafs won a faceoff in their own end in the final minute of the first period Wednesday night, with a 1-0 lead, and with little more than 30 seconds to kill to put further doubt in the doubt-filled Ottawa Senators. All they had to do was kill some clock.

 "Our defenceman (Kaberle) did not take the pass (behind the net) and did not come to the coverage in front," Quinn said. "Fundamentals hurt us a little bit. We can't make those kind of plays.

 "I'm not sitting here trying to blame Tom on this. Those things will happen, even to the good ones.

 "I don't doubt Tom. I like so many of the things he has. He does a lot of really good things for us ... (given) Tom's growth, and we talk about him a lot, we hoped we would get (those mistakes) out of his system."

 Translation: We wish he wouldn't blow up at the absolute worst possible times.

 Further translation: Who else am I going to use in his place, Aki Berg?

 But that's part of where the Leafs are right now, as they await word on Nieuwendyk's back and word on Sundin's mystery lower-body injury, and with the knowledge that Darcy Tucker is already playing hurt and Mikael Renberg isn't completely healthy and that Ed Belfour's back can spasm at any moment, and that the Senators -- as always -- could probably run the marathon before suiting up. They are that healthy.

 This is the playoff call that all teams need and only the winners somehow find. You need more than your health. You need more than your best players being your best players. You need a bounce, a break, a surprise, something.

 An unlikely goal from an unlikely player.

 A Steve Thomas come to life. A John Madden emerging. A Lonny Bohonos even.

 Kaberle can be that guy when he isn't blowing up. So can Alexei Ponikarovsky or Nik Antropov or even Alexander Mogilny, who has been shockingly quiet.

 Somebody needs to step up, be a surprise -- and soon. Time no longer is an ally of the Maple Leafs.

 Defenceman continues to make big mistakes at the worst time. But what is Pat Quinn to do, Steve Simmons asks, replace him with Berg?


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