Eagle lands on Leafs

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

SUNRISE, Fla. -- There is more swamp than sand surrounding the Bank America Center, but the Maple Leafs certainly made much of Ed Belfour's night a walk on the beach.

If the 41-year-old goaltender with the creaky back faced this version of the Leafs 60 times per season, he'd be accepting the Vezina Trophy come April.

Perhaps the only people more disgusted with the Leafs' moribund performance through the first two periods than the Toronto coaching staff were the poor saps who paid to watch this dog's breakfast on the big screen at various Ciniplex outlets throughout Ontario.

FIRST TIME

In that span, the Leafs managed just 13 shots on Belfour, who was facing his former team for the first time since being bought out by Toronto over the summer.

The Leafs did rally in the third period on goals by BryanMcCabe and Mats Sundin but it wasn't enough to keep the visitors from suffering a 4-2 loss to the Panthers last night in front of a disappointing crowd of 13,233.

McCabe and Sundin narrowed the gap to 3-2 only to have Chris Gratton seal the deal with an empty net goal.

It has been a tumultous week for the Panthers .

First there was the alleged incident involving Belfour at a Long Island night club last week, one which left fellow goaltender Alex Auld with stitches over the right eye.

Belfour denied reports he was involved in a drunken scuffle with teammates, bartenders and bouncers, claiming Auld was injured while the two goalies were horsing around in the hotel lobby.

If that wasn't bad enough, forward Todd Bertuzzi underwent back surgery yesterday and will be out indefinitely. The Panthers already were missing former Leaf Joe Niewendyk, who has been suffering from back spasms.

Coming off a come-from-behind 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning the previous night, the Leafs should have come out of the gates in waves at their former teammate, who played for Toronto from 2002 to 2006.

Instead, it was the hosts who took it to their sluggish visitors, outshooting the Leafs 23-5 in the first period. If not for the heroics of goalie J-S Aubin, coach Paul Maurice's squad would have found itself in a much deeper hole than the 2-0 deficit they took into the intermission.

The Panthers wasted little time getting on the scoreboard. Just 67 seconds after the opening faceoff, Rostislav Olez drained a rebound from the side of the crease, putting the Panthers up 1-0 and setting the tone for the evening.

Nine minutes later it was Florida captain Olli Jokinen doing the damage, beating an overworked Aubin to put the Panthers up 2-0. How the Leafs could leave Jokinen, Florida's most talented player, alone on Aubin's doorstep is anyone's guess.

Joel Kwiatkowski, a defenceman converted to forward in the absence of Bertuzzi and Nieuwendyk, upped the lead to 3-0 at 3:19 of the third, slipping the puck through Aubin's pads.

Maybe Aubin should have stopped the shot but, as one of the few Leafs who bothered to show up, he can be excused.

The same can not be said for the majority of his teammates.

McCabe finally spoiled Belfour's shutout bid midway through the third.

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REPORT CARD

D

Forwards: This unit has scored just once in the past two games and it continues to struggle to generate any kind of consistent offensive output.

D

Defence: Provided another goal via Bryan McCabe but still no excuse for their sloppy play. Kaberle continued his hot streak, contributing assists on both goals.

B

Goaltending: An overworked Aubin must have felt as if the ice was tilted, because it sure looked that way.


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