Leafs let it get away

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

BOSTON -- From a numerical point of view, it's one tiny point. But at this stage of the Maple Leafs' season, no point is tiny.

The Leafs' 3-2 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins last night, coupled with the victory by the eighth-place Tampa Bay Lightning, probably put an end to Toronto's already wobbly playoff hopes.

Realistically, after the Montreal massacre, the Leafs couldn't afford to lose any more games.

But you knew that wasn't going to happen. A team hanging around the .500 mark for the first 70 games doesn't suddenly win the last 12.

So what they had to do was make sure they won the ones they should win.

Last night's was one of those. But they didn't win it.

They didn't win it because they came out flat. When you're fighting for your playoff life, two shots in the opening period is not acceptable.

They didn't win it because when you get right down to it, their personnel at this stage of the year isn't much better than Boston's -- if it's better at all.

They didn't win it because they were too self-indulgent, the best example being Tie Domi's decision to yap at the referee rather than come back at full speed to defend against a three-on-three Boston break in the second period.

As a result, when the puck came to his man, Glen Murray, Domi was still a few feet behind the play and Murray, unencumbered, snapped a shot that beat Aubin and put the Bruins back in the lead.

To be fair, the Leafs defencemen could have read the play better as well, but if Domi had been where he should have been, defence strategy wouldn't have entered into the equation.

They didn't win it because they just seem to be incapable of making the right moves on shootouts.

In short order, Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker and Alexei Ponikarovsky rolled in on Boston goaltender Tim Thomas. None made a particularly scintillating move. None scored.

Down at the other end, Brad Boyes, who was traded away in 2003 as part of the Owen Nolan deal, was scoring the only goal the Bruins needed, thanks to a bit of pre-scouting -- but not very pre. Quite recent, in fact.

Boyes watched Jean-Sebastien Aubin beat Patrice Bergeron on the first Boston attempt and determined his strategy accordingly.

"I figured I was going to shoot," he said. "I watched the replay and he kind of dropped his glove a bit. I figured I'd go down and throw it upstairs.

"The last couple of times in shootouts, I tried deking and I wasn't successful at that, so after my last shootout I figured out I was going to shoot. Then when I saw him drop his glove, I decided to go glove side.

And there's another reason the Leafs didn't win it. Their power play was kept off the board again, even in overtime.

Every team knows that Bryan McCabe is the key to Toronto's offence, especially on the power play and gives him no room to move.

The Bruins played a spirited game and made sure that they took away McCabe's time and space, whether the Leafs had the man advantage or not.

"They're a battling team," said McCabe who was clearly disappointed by last night's turn of events. "They've got a gritty coach. They played hard. They try to play spoiler or whatever. Guys never quit in this league. It's never a given that you're going to get two points."

As for the power play, McCabe said, "We've just got to move it around and try to get open. It's tough sledding out there right now. People are tightening up, its playoff time."

Not for the Leafs.

Not after last night.


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