McCabe's absence felt

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Those 23 consecutive days of rain in this part of British Columbia caused some major leaks through the Maple Leafs' roof last night.

With top scorer Bryan McCabe out of the lineup for the first time this season, most of the damage was on defence as the Leafs let a pair of one-goal leads against the struggling Vancouver Canucks turn into a 4-3 loss at a noisy General Motors Place.

A picture backhand power-play goal by an off-balance Alex Steen at 10:51 of the third period brought the Leafs closer, but their 1-for-7 power play hurt their chances. The defeat sent Toronto home with a 1-2 record in three one-goal games on their Western Canadian road swing.

McCabe's absence was felt immediately, with the Leafs stumbling around in their own end from the opening shift and looking awful on most of their six diluted power plays.

"No question that Bryan is our best player, but with the effort we had from every player, we played good enough to win," Leafs captain Mats Sundin said.

Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn showed faith in rookie defencemen Staffan Kronwall and Carlo Colaiacovo, playing them together at the start, but going with Ken Klee and Tomas Kaberle as his top defensive pair and breaking the kids up as the game tightened.

"They haven't had any particular practice time together, but we're not afraid of that," Quinn said of the kids in the morning. But Kronwall and Colaiacovo were on the ice for the first two Canucks goals.

"Staffan and I have played together a number of times this year," Colaiacovo said. "It is just at times (last night) we found ourselves in difficult positions."

The Leafs received another lift from a shaky opposing goaltender last night. Vancouver's Alex Auld duplicated Ty Conklin's mistakes from Saturday night in Edmonton. Auld was beaten by a Kilger short-handed goal, after the Leaf outdueled Sami Salo for the puck, spun around and fired it five hole. It was Kilger's fourth goal in as many games.

The kids were caught on the Canucks' tying goal when Jarkko Ruutu moved to close range. Fourth-liners Kilger and Wade Belak set up a pinching Alex Khavanov for his third of the year, but Kronwall was pressured into giving up a puck that Matt Cooke eventually buried.

A coverage breakdown involving Aki Berg allowed Alex Burrows to creep out behind Ed Belfour for a decent shot with the Leafs unable to corral the high rebound for the winner in the second period. Scarborough's Anson Carter clinched it on the power play.

"We did a lot of good things (in this game), but we made three errors and we paid for them," Quinn said.

"We played one good game and two lousy ones on this trip, and wound up winning one of the lousy ones (in Edmonton)."

Auld, who got better as the game went on, will have a lot to say about his team's chances in the Northwest Division and the playoffs, as he settles in as the No. 1 goalie following Dan Cloutier's season-long injury.

"I'm looking forward to (the second half)," the Thunder Bay native said.

"We have to do a lot of little things right. The second half usually flies by, especially with the Olympic break. It condenses the games even more.

"Pressure comes with the position here, much like in Toronto, Montreal or any Canadian city, especially when you're expected to win, expected to be a contender."

The Leafs were 4-1-1 in their previous six visits here, but the lockout has changed the picture.

"I've watched Eastern teams and they're pretty exciting and pretty wide open, so that's something we're familiar with," Todd Bertuzzi said. "Whenever we get those teams in or we go out East, it's always a little more enjoyable. Not to knock the eight games (per team) that we play in our own division, but it is entertaining."

His Canucks wore their third jerseys, the 1970 expansion model, with the stick-and-rink logo.

"It reminds me of a boutique hotel," Canucks winger Anson Carter said earlier this year, "simple furniture and not a lot on the walls."


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