Missed chances plaguing Leafs

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:09 AM ET

BUFFALO -- An exasperated Darcy Tucker leaned back in his locker and gazed up at the heavens for several minutes, perhaps looking for some divine intervention.

It wasn't about to come.

Nor is a playoff berth, either, if the Maple Leafs continue to squander opportunities as they did last night.

On an evening when the host Buffalo Sabres were ripe for the taking, Tucker was accepting the blame for the Leafs' heart-breaking 3-1 loss.

He will probably have nightmares for a while about his glorious chance to tie the game at 2-2 with less than four minutes remaining in regulation.

With Buffalo's Chris Drury in the penalty box serving a four-minute double minor for high-sticking, Jason Allison slid a perfect cross-crease feed to Tucker who unleashed a one-time blast at the seemingly empty net.

With the blink of an eye, the left leg of Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller darted out and thwarted the attempt, much to the shock of Tucker and his teammates.

So close and yet so far.

That might well end up being the credo of the Maple Leafs season.

"It's been happening too much lately," Tucker said afterward. "I've been missing too many great chances at key points in the game.

"There was one against Boston the other night, another against Washington ... I just need to bear down and bury these chances when they present themselves.

"This was tough.We needed this one. We wanted it bad. We were right there and had great efforts from everyone.

"The entire team was committed. Too bad we didn't start playing this way (earlier) in the season."

It's a bit late to say that, isn't it? After all, had the Leafs cranked their butts in gear and shown the same intensity months ago that they exhibited versus the Sabres, they would not be watching their post-season aspirations being flushed away into the nearby Niagara River.

Yet even their fine effort last night did not translate into points. And right now, that's all that matters.

Here was a window to squeeze within three points of the eighth- place Montreal Canadiens, who were being shelled 5-1 by the Carolina Hurricanes.

Instead, the Leafs blew it.

And with six of the next seven games on the road, the task certainly doesn't get any easier.

What frustrated head coach Pat Quinn the most were the circumstances leading up to the Sabres' winning goal by Mike Grier at 8:14 of the third period, one that put Buffalo up 2-1.

With the Leafs buzzing around the Sabres net, Nik Antropov inexplicably skated to the Leafs bench for a line change, leaving Toronto a man short in the offensive zone.

The Sabres gobbled up the puck and immediately came the other way, with Grier deking Aki Berg out of his jockstrap before draining his own rebound past goalie Mikael Tellqvist.

By the way, fit Berg for some goat horns, too.

"Tucker and Allison quit skating coming back on that play," Quinn said. "Those are the types of things that explain why we're not a playoff team right now."

Tellqvist, making his third consecutive start in place of Ed Belfour and his ailing back, was outstanding. But the only offensive support he received was a Mats Sundin goal in the third that pulled the Leafs into a shortlived 1-1 tie.

Chris Drury scored the other two Sabres goals, the second one into an empty net.


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