Undisciplined Leafs easy prey

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

DENVER -- Not only have the Maple Leafs forgotten how to win, they've forgotten how to count.

On two separate occasions last night, Toronto players screwed up line changes, leading to a pair of too-many-men-on-the-ice penalties.

Such bone-headed plays are not the signs of a playoff team.

Pretty soon, the Leafs won't be one.

Not at this rate.

"I agree," captain Mats Sundin said after watching his team implode yet again en route to a 5-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

"This is really disappointing. I know there are a lot of games left but if we want to make the post-season we can't keep shooting ourselves in the foot."

Peeved at blowing a three-goal lead in a 4-3 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night, the Leafs held a closed-door team meeting prior to their morning skate yesterday. The message: We can't beat ourselves again.

NICE WORDS

Nice words. Too bad it took just eight hours for the Leafs to forget them.

And now, suddenly, they find themselves fighting for their playoff lives.

They are now tied for sixth place at 51 points with the sizzling New Jersey Devils, who dumped the St. Louis Blues 5-3 last night.

Just one point behind are the eighth place Atlanta Thrashers, one of the hottest teams in the league.

While the Devils and Thrashers are on the rise, the free-falling Leafs continue to search for answers after dropping four of their past five games heading into their matchup against the defensive-minded Minnesota Wild tonight.

Sure, with Eric Lindros, Darcy Tucker and Bryan McCabe out of the lineup because of injury, the Leafs admittedly are missing several key cogs.

But that is no excuse for taking a procession of silly penalties, allowing the high-octane Avs power play to score three times with the man advantage.

Even normally combustible coach Pat Quinn, who spent chunks of the team's practice Monday ripping into his squad for its recent sloppy play, seemed drained after this loss.

"We played soft," he said. "And every penalty we took in the first period was a weak one. Turn the puck over, then be lazy and hook the guy.

"Yes, we have guys out of the lineup. But the guys we have in there are not playing smart. And I don't just mean the young guys."

With the Leafs up 2-1 early in the second, Ken Klee already was in the penalty box when Staffan Kronwall and Tomas Kaberle had a communication breakdown, leading to the team's second too-many-men infraction of the evening.

Milan Hejduk jumped on the Leafs' stupidity, scoring a pair of power-play goals 34 seconds apart to put the Avs up 3-2. It was the turning point of the game.

The back-breaker then came at 12:35 of the second when Cody McCormick's stoppable shot from the wing found its way though Ed Belfour's legs. Belfour should have been pulled at that point but Quinn resisted.

Marek Svatos and Alex Tanguay also scored for the Avs, who have now reeled off eight consecutive victories. Sundin, Jason Allison and Jeff O'Neill replied for the Leafs, who made their first visit to Denver since Dec. 15, 1997.


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