MONTREAL -- The stitches sealing the gash on the right side of Darcy Tucker's nose were framed by blotches of dried blood as the Toronto 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 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 is they blew a huge opportunity this weekend.
In facing a pair of teams beneath them in the standings in the Habs and Washington, the Leafs had a golden chance to grab two much-needed victories.
Instead, they were embarrassed 5-1 by the Caps Friday, then were done in by a pair of Montreal rookies 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, who 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, this was tough to lose,"coach Paul Maurice said.
The Leafs are now in a three-way tie with the Habs and New York Islanders for ninth in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the New York Rangers and two behind Carolina.
"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."
Toronto's next six games are against teams ahead of them in the standings. A grudge match against the New Jersey Devils in the Tomas Kaberle Bowl Tuesday will be followed by back-to-back games against the Buffalo Sabres, tilts versus the Atlanta Thrashers and Carolina, then a home date against Pittsburgh.
"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 and Kyle Wellwood and Pavel Kubina for Toronto in regulation. In the shootout, Koivu and Kostitsyn scored for the Habs and Sundin for the Leafs.