SUNRISE, Fla. -- There is more swamp than sand surrounding the Bank America Center, but the Maple Leafs still made much of Ed Belfour's memorable night a walk on the beach.
In fact, if the 41-year-old goaltender with the creaky back faced last night's version of the Leafs 60 times per season, he'd be accepting the Vezina Trophy come late June.
Perhaps the only people more disgusted with the Leafs' moribund performance through the first two periods than the hundreds of blue-and-white clad Toronto fans in attendance were the poor saps who paid to see this dog's breakfast at various movie outlets throughout Ontario.
Imagine having to watch the first abysmal 40 minutes of this one on a 50-foot screen? Yuk.
In that span, the Leafs managed just 13 shots on Belfour, who was facing his former team for the first time since Toronto management declined to pick up his option over the summer.
The Leafs did try to rally from a three-goal deficit 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 Florida Panthers last night in front of a disappointing crowd of 13,233.
"It's nice to have a game like that against the fellas," the understated Belfour said.
"And to come out on top was a bonus."
If the veteran goalie was bitter at Toronto management, he wasn't showing it. And why should he be? He pocketed a $1.5-million US buyout from Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment over the summer, adding to the wads of cash he stuffed into his coffers from the organization during his tenure in Toronto.
"Sometimes things don't work out," he said. "It's unfortunate. That's the way sports is now."
Belfour was not as forthcoming when asked about his team's tumultous week, one that started when he allegedly was involved in an incident at a Long Island nightclub in which fellow goalie Alex Auld was left with stitches over the right eye.
"I'm not sure what you are talking about," Belfour said.
For the record, Belfour recently 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.
The Leafs obviously did too much horsing around in the opening 20 minutes when they were outshot 23-5 and outscored 2-0 on goals by Rostislav Olesz and Olli Jokinen. After Joel Kwiatkowski widened the lead to three goals early in the third, McCabe and Sundin replied for the Leafs before Chris Gratton's empty- netter sealed the deal for Florida.
"That was probably the worst period we've had all season," Sundin said of the opening 20 minutes.
"There are no excuses."
Sundin rejected suggestions from several teammates that back-to-back games, coupled with the humid conditions in Florida, combined to cause the team's sluggish start.
"Come on," he said after watching his team get outshot 43-25. "It's not like it's March or anything. It's still early in the season."
The loss ended Toronto's modest three-game winning streak.