BUFFALO -- The jinx of the HSBC Arena remains tightly in place for the Maple Leafs.
Despite playing in a sold-out home rink of the Buffalo Sabres that was jammed with Leafs fans, the visitors exited the Queen City in the usual manner -- as a group of losers.
Thanks partly to a two-goal performance by Tim Connolly, the Leafs lost 5-2 and fell to 4-14-3, including two playoff losses, at HSBC since it opened in 1996.
The Leafs would love to put talk of their ineffective play in Buffalo behind them but they have to start playing well for a full 60 minutes here first.
They were good in spurts last night but they fell apart in the third period. Going into the game, the Leafs were tied for the NHL lead with 26 third-period goals. But they could not beat Martin Biron in the final 20 minutes.
Connolly, who missed the entire 2003-04 season with post-concussion syndrome but played in Switzerland during the lockout, undressed Leafs defenceman Ken Klee and then beat Ed Belfour with a backhand deke high on the short side for the winner at 6:44 of the third.
"I got caught flat-footed and the kid made a hell of a move, and then he made a hell of a shot," Klee said. "The momentum hinges on close plays and switches on a heartbeat. It was one extraordinary play and I would like to have it back."
Pinning the loss on one play would be wrong. The Leafs, after Eric Lindros scored his team-high ninth goal of the season at 15:13 of the second period, entered the third period tied 2-2.
But coach Pat Quinn was miffed at a lazy penalty taken by Nik Antropov in the second period, with Tomas Kaberle in the box. Antropov was called for hooking in the Sabres end and Chris Drury scored on the ensuing 5-on-3 power play.
"We did some dumb things," Quinn said. "That was a bad penalty. We did not execute defensively. We held the momentum several times and found ways to beat ourselves."
Alex Steen also scored for the Leafs. Mike Grier and Thomas Vanek, into an empty net, also scored for Buffalo, which had lost its previous four games.
Ed Belfour made 25 saves but handled the puck as though it were a small bomb. He seemed to set up the Sabres as much as he did his teammates, which was out of character because Belfour usually is adept at handling the puck.
"I bobbled the puck there a couple of times and it was my fault on the one," Belfour said, referring to the Grier goal. "I was not very good, for sure (in handling the puck). It was one of those nights."
Said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff: "Mishandling the puck, it was a contest between Eddie and Martin and I thought Eddie was worse than Marty."
The Toronto players have yet to learn they need to put their sticks away when they are short-handed.
"We're taking those penalties 200 feet from our net and we won't win doing that," Mats Sundin said. "We had a good effort but we made some mental errors."
The Leafs will face the Canadiens in Montreal tonight.