Leafs done in by rookies

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

MONTREAL -- The stitches sealing the gash on the right side of Darcy Tucker's nose were framed by blotches of dried blood as the Maple Leafs winger emerged to meet the media last night.

No big deal. Such flesh wounds hardly phase the feisty Tucker, especially when his team is scratching and clawing for a playoff berth.

What did hurt Tucker and his teammates, however, was the heartbreaking 3-2 shootout loss the Leafs had just absorbed to the host Montreal Canadiens in the midst of a playoff-type atmosphere at the electric Bell Centre.

While the Leafs claimed they were happy to snatch a valuable point, the reality of the situation is that they blew a huge opportunity this weekend.

In facing a pair of teams beneath them in the standings in the Habs and Washington Capitals, the Leafs had a golden chance to grab two much-needed victories.

Instead, they were embarrassed 5-1 by the lowly Caps on Friday, then were done in by a pair of Montreal rookies less than 24 hours later.

First-year forward Andrei Kostitsyn led the way with his first goal of the season early in the first period, then scored the game-winner in the shootout.

At the other end, Habs goalie Jaroslav Halak -- a kid that entered the game with a 3.71 goals-against average and .874 save percentage -- was the game's first star.

"We couldn't do anything about (the Washington game) ... but this was tough to lose," coach Paul Maurice said.

The Leafs now find themselves in a three-way tie with the Habs and New York Islanders for ninth spot in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the eighth-place New York Rangers and two in the rear of the seventh-place Carolina Hurricanes.

"We don't have time to sit here and say we played a horse(bleep) game," captain Mats Sundin said. "We played well other than our start.

"We're not going to say we lost the season tonight because we didn't."

Sure, the Leafs are still in the thick of the hunt after grabbing just one of a possible four points against the Habs and Caps.

But here is where the problem lies.

Toronto's next six games are against teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. A grudge match against the New Jersey Devils in the Tomas Kaberle Bowl on Tuesday will be followed by back-to-back games against the Buffalo Sabres, tilts versus the Atlanta Thrashers and Hurricanes, then a home date against the Pittsburgh Crosbys.

"It was very disappointing tonight," Tucker said. "We need to get wins."

As for his sliced up face, Tucker wondered how Saku Koivu avoided a high sticking minor.

"The officials said there was no (high stick)," said Tucker, who was then informed replays showed there, in fact, was. "I'd like to talk to them."

Kostitsyn and Koivu scored for Montreal in regulation while Kyle Wellwood and Pavel Kubina replied for the Leafs. In the shootout, Koivu and Kostitsyn scored for the Habs while Sundin had the lone Leafs goal.

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REPORT CARD

C+ Forwards: The return of Kyle Wellwood was huge for the Leafs, who too often this season have shown a lack of finishing prowess.

B Defence: Were awful in the game's first 12 minutes but clamped down for the most part the rest of the way.

B Goaltending: On one hand, Andrew Raycroft kept his team in the game. On the other, he has to stop shots like the one by Andrei Kostitsyn that beat him through the legs early in the game.


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