A point taken away

TERRY KOSHAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Maple Leafs were disgusted with referee Kerry Fraser last night, but might have looked in the mirror for a better explanation for a tough loss.

With no points to spare in a tight playoff race, the Leafs blew a two-goal lead against the New York Islanders in their first visit of the season to the Nassau Coliseum and eventually lost 3-2 in a shootout.

None of John Pohl, Mats Sundin nor Alexei Ponikarovsky was able to beat Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro in the shootout, with the biggest save coming on Ponikarovsky. After Randy Robitaille, the Islanders' third shooter, beat Andrew Raycroft to the stick side, it was up to Ponikarovsky to keep the Leafs' hope for a win alive. But DiPietro poke-checked Ponikarovsky to drop the Leafs to 3-6 in shootouts.

"It's frustrating, but we got a point," Raycroft said. "It's not like we lost eight points. If we are going to lose, we might as well lose getting a point."

The Leafs, who play in Philadelphia against the Flyers tomorrow night, fell to 10th in the Eastern Conference with 67 points, one behind the Islanders. In the eighth and final playoff spot are the Carolina Hurricanes, who have 69.

Toronto was up 2-0 on goals by Matt Stajan -- who had not scored since Jan. 4, a skid of 18 games -- and Ponikarovsky. Those goals came in a span of two minutes and three seconds in the second period. But the Islanders' Trent Hunter, who scored a pair of beautiful goals on deflections, got his first with 57.1 seconds to go in the middle period.

He then got the tying goal with less than seven minutes to play as Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe sat in the box serving a hooking minor.

Why did Fraser make the Leafs see red? Early in the third period, the Leafs appeared to go up 3-1 when Sundin beat a prone DiPietro from a bad angle at the side boards. But Fraser, who was not on top of the play, waved off the goal after seeing Ponikarovsky tangled up with DiPietro. What Fraser missed -- and the replays appeared to show -- was Ponikarovsky getting checked into the netminder by Islanders defenceman Brendan Witt, followed by DiPietro latching himself on to the Leaf's stick.

"I was backing away," said Ponikarovsky, 0-for-7 in shootout, worst mark in the NHL this season. "He grabbed my stick and put it between his legs and squeezed it. That was a bad call. I don't know what the official was looking at, but I think they made the wrong call."

Coach Paul Maurice, doing his best to hide his anger, said he received no explanation.

"Did not expect one, and there was not one," Maurice said. "Not sure what they wanted Alex to do. He was doing everything he could to get out. So much work goes into the job, by the players, you just want to understand."

Sundin did not speak to the media afterward.

Before a crowd of 11,759, the Leafs were outshot 30-29. Raycroft, who made his 22nd start in a row, refused to pin the blame on Fraser.

"We had a 2-1 lead and we had a lot of reasons to win that one," Raycroft said. "It's a big game and this time of year, every little thing counts. I think if that is our excuse, it is unacceptable."


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