Leafs hit a road block

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

NASHVILLE -- All good things must come an end, but the Maple Leafs weren't very gracious about how their win streak was terminated last night.

Coach Paul Maurice and captain Mats Sundin felt the referees denied an even playing field to test themselves against the Nashville Predators, the National Hockey League's best team.

But the bottom line is the 4-2 Nashville win stopped the Leafs from getting a piece of eighth place, reaching a club-record five decisions on the road ( six overall), ruined their spotless regulation record when Alexei Ponikarovsky scores (10-0-2), while they were short 11 times, second-most this season.

The go-ahead goal came on a 5-on-3 after Sundin retaliated on a Scottie Upshall blow to the head with Tomas Kaberle already going off.

"F-ing terrible call. Terrible," Sundin snapped afterward, his latest outburst at a perceived inconsistency in the way games are called of late. "He hit me after the whistle, that's how it started. Some nights they seem to call everything, some nights it's like the old (obstructed NHL).

"I thought we were the better team 5-on-5, but our power play let us down (0-for-8). Now we have two huge games at home (Pittsburgh tomorrow, the Islanders on Tuesday)."

Like Sundin, Maurice could sense the Leafs were poised for another upset, as they held the explosive Preds to five first-period shots and were tied 1-1 before the double minor. Ponikarovsky had scored with Sundin collecting his 500th assist as a Leaf.

"They didn't have an answer for Sundin's line, they just dominated down low, but couldn't finish or draw a penalty, for whatever reason," Maurice said. "But when you're assessed five minors (in the second), you don't have a lot of gas left. There were 12 minors in the first two periods for a game that had 19 hits. I don't think what Mats did was savage."

Toronto had not allowed more than four power plays a game on the trip. But there was a lot to like about what transpired in tough buildings such as Carolina, Ottawa and the Gaylord Entertainment Center.

"It wasn't an easy schedule and I'm sure a lot of people were writing us off," defenceman Bryan McCabe said. "We played hard, we're proud of what we did. If we hadn't been on the streak, we'd be looking way up (for a playoff spot). But we still have a long way to go.

Andrew Raycroft, making his 16th consecutive start, had held the opposition to two goals or less in seven of the past eight games.

"They flubbed a shot on one of their goals, but those are the kind of breaks we've been getting lately," Raycroft said. "It's all how we bounce back against Pittsburgh,"

The Carolina Hurricanes pushed ahead to seventh last night and left idle Tampa Bay two up on the Leafs.

J.P. Dumont's third-period goal with Jeff O'Neill off put the Preds up two, but Boyd Devereaux's hustle led to a Chad Kilger goal at 16:13 of the third before Vernon Fiddler's empty netter.

Defenceman Pavel Kubina made a prophet of Maurice, who had preached the evils of inaccurate passes up the middle against Nashville's transition. In no time, Martin Erat picked off Kubina's delivery and beat him to feed David Legwand for the opening breakaway goal.

"In speed and skill, they're like Buffalo," Maurice said earlier in the day. "They have two defencemen, (Marek) Zidlicky and (Kimmo) Timonen, who are like extra forwards.

"You have to understand that this team was built a long time ago to survive (lean expansion years) and so they play great defence. Now their skill and talent is coming out."

The Leafs scratched centre John Pohl after warmup with back spasms, replacing him with Kris Newbury, who made his presence felt in a first-period scrap with Sheldon Brookbank. Pohl is day to day. Alex Steen was fine after a knee-on-knee collision with Upshall.


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