Sweet night, sour finish

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:39 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- It's a trend Pat Quinn is not thrilled with.

When asked about the performances of 21-year-old rookie Alexander Steen and 21-year-old sophomore Matt Stajan, the Maple Leafs coach did not hesitate.

"Probably our better players again," Quinn said last night after a 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

"I don't like it (that) some of the (veteran) guys are playing at a level that is probably below their abilities."

On a line with veteran centre Jason Allison, both Stajan and Steen had their first three-point games in the NHL and were a plus-2 on the night.

But Stajan was stinging after the game. His turnover helped lead to the winning goal by the Hurricanes and he was a touch too late to stop Erik Cole from deflecting the puck over goalie Ed Belfour in the final two minutes.

"It was a bad break," Stajan said. "I actually had control of the puck and lost it and got hooked a couple of times. I was ahead of their three guys (going back into the Leafs zone) and somehow three guys passed me. Maybe if I took a dive (a hook) would have been called, but I am not going to do that. I was late getting back and that's how she goes."

Steen is getting raves for his defensive play -- he leads the Leafs with a plus-5 rating -- and he now has 10 points (five goals and five assists) in 13 games. But despite a nice evening, he was glum.

"No smiles tonight," Steen said. "It's always tough to lose, no matter what happens.

"Late in the third period, you don't want to give up rush chances like that. It was poorly done by us. It's hard.

"What's the solution? Keep the third guy (back) so you don't get rush chances. We have to be more keen."

Well, maybe Steen and Stajan can look back at last night as one that builds mental toughness.

"Everything we seemed to touch, found its way to the back of the net," Stajan said. "To blow the game in last five minutes like we did takes it all away."


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