Sabres' quick start stops Leafs short

MIKE ZEISBERGER, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

Maple Leafs fans were treated to a classy pre-game ceremony honouring six members of Canada's championship world junior hockey team last night at the Air Canada Centre.

But in the time it took spectators to utter the words "gold medallists" the home team found itself in a hole from which it could never recover.

With the capacity crowd of 19,487 still buzzing at the sight of the returning Canadian junior heroes, the visiting Buffalo Sabres had built a 2-0 advantage and would hold on to the lead the rest of the evening en route to a 4-3 victory.

Dmitry Kalinin and Chris Drury scored just 39 seconds apart before the game was five minutes old, putting the Leafs behind the 8-ball for the remaining 55 minutes.

"It's tough to be down two to any team, but especially these guys with the talent they have," Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft said. "You end up having to open things up a bit, and that's playing right into their hands."

While the assembled throng was all warm and fuzzy when it came to the Canadian juniors, it had an entirely different reaction to Raycroft.

With Daniel Briere and Ales Kotalik also beating him on this night, Raycroft received the Bronx cheer treatment from the Air Canada Centre faithful.

That did not sit well with Leafs forward Matt Stajan, who felt his goalie was undeserving of such negative response.

"That's just stupid," Stajan said.

"That's the way Toronto is. He has been there all year for us, making a lot of big saves. (Fans) can do whatever they want."

If anything, the injury depleted Leafs deserve credit for consistently attempting to claw their way back from the early deficit.

But in this ping-pong affair that went back and forth all evening, Toronto never could get any closer than one goal down.

Facing the early two-goal deficit, the Leafs narrowed the gap to 2-1 on Carlo Colaiacovo's seeing-eye goal late in the first period.

Briere upped Buffalo's margin to 3-1 early in the second, but back came Toronto on Alex Steen's eighth of the season. Kotalik restored Buffalo's two-goal margin late in the period, but Pavel Kubina's first goal as a Leaf at 15:28 of the third brought Toronto to within 4-3 and set the stage for a fantastic finish.

"I've been working hard and waiting a long time for that goal," said Kubina, signed to a whopping four-year, $20- million US deal during the off-season. "Unfortunately, it came in the course of a loss instead of a win."

The Leafs, who outshot the Sabres 35-29, play host to the defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday before facing the Sabres again Thursday, this time in Buffalo.

"We don't come into these games saying we just want to keep the games close because we're injured," Leafs coach Paul Maurice said. "We wanted to win, and we had our chances.

"That's the frustrating part."

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REPORT CARD

C- Forwards: Generated a decent amount of chances, but the only goal by a forward was scored by Alex Steen on a two-man advantage.

C Defence: After bad 39-second span in the first period, the defence corps settled down. But the damage already had been done.

C Goaltending: Can't really blame Andrew Raycroft for the loss, but he won't write home about his performance.


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