Short-handed heartbreaker

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

Ed Belfour and Darcy Tucker couldn't believe their eyes last night.

The Maple Leafs goaltender was stunned by a Mike Richards' 5-on-3 short-handed goal and Tucker was certain he had given his team a mid-game lead that was denied by video replay.

For the first time in five games, the Leafs couldn't deal with the adversity in losing 5-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers. Despite killing seven of eight penalties, the Leafs were out of miracles in the third period.

"The (Richards goal) was a heartbreaker, but we got beat on three straight faceoff goals in the third," defenceman Ken Klee said. "I don't know if that's lack of mental preparation or not."

Tucker thought he put the Leafs ahead early in the second on a scramble. Replays were inconclusive, but Tucker knows what he saw.

"I saw it in and when (Flyers goalie Robert Esche) got up, the puck was halfway in the net," Tucker said. "No one was pushing him (over the goal line)."

Leafs coach Pat Quinn was more upset that the referees tried to tell him the whistle had blown first. Bill McCreary and Greg Spada were already in his bad books for assessing Toronto so many calls early.

"There was the same kind of mugging going on later in the game and they put their whistles in their pocket," said Quinn, who was coaching in his 500th NHL game.

The Leafs were threatening on the two-man advantage when Jeff O'Neill lost the puck and young Richards flew down the left side for a high shot that handcuffed Belfour.

"Normally, I like to get those," Belfour deadpanned. "I was off my angle and he made a good shot. There were a lot of in-tight plays and scrambles (in the third). They're good at that."

The loss broke the Leafs' winning streak at four games after it began with a 5-2 decision over the Flyers back on Oct. 11.

At 1:27 of the third, ex-Flyer captain Eric Lindros scored in his fifth consecutive match and temporarily erased memories of the Richards' goal and the Tucker ruling.

But that was the cue for the Flyers to rush the net and regain the lead on Mike Knuble's goal. Donald Brashear's tip of an Eric Desjardins' shot at 6:07 sealed the deal, with Branko Radijovec adding the insurance.

Prior to that it was a special teams exhibition, proving that in the new, power-play friendly National Hockey League, the category of short-handed goals are certain to loom large. The Leafs experienced the exhilaration on Wednesday when Matt Stajan scored in a win over Carolina, but Toronto was up against the league's best last night. Richards late second period strike was the Flyers' fourth short-handed marker this year, putting them ahead of Ottawa and the New York Islanders.

Toronto was gunning for its longest win streak since an eight-game run in November-December of last year. The Flyers had been held to seven goals in their previous four visits here (including playoffs), but were in fine form last evening.

They came off a week's holidays, which included a team bonding trip to West Point and held the Leafs without a shot for the game's first eight minutes. The clubs traded power-play goals before the period ended.

Tomas Kaberle scored his first to go along with seven assists, while Desjardins responded for the Flyers with a similar point shot.

The Leafs killed off four power plays in the second period alone, including a double minor to Wade Belak, who now tops the team with 26 minutes in penalties.

"It seems like the Flyers won all the races to the puck tonight," said Bryan McCabe, who added two assists and continues to be Toronto's leading scorer. "But we killed so many penalties that it was hard to keep the pace up."


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