BUFFALO -- What appeared to be a picnic by the Peace Bridge for the Maple Leafs last night was ruined by a shower of Buffalo Sabres goals that could end up washing away playoff hopes.
The Leafs, leading by three in the third period, watched as the speedy Sabres exploded for four goals in a span of eight minutes 45 seconds and wound up beating the visitors 5-4.
The clubs go at it again tonight at the Air Canada Centre but a quick recovery by the Leafs likely will be difficult.
"We let ourselves down," defenceman Ian White said. "Those were two big points."
It's hard to imagine Toronto playing any better against the National Hockey League leaders in the early stages at HSBC Arena, but it still sits 11th in the Eastern Conference this morning, two points out of a crowded eighth-place hunt. And blowing big leads is not the stuff of playoff-bound clubs.
"Of course the clock is ticking," captain Mats Sundin said. "All losses hurt, but this is one we can use to drum up energy and emotion for (tonight).
"We're not in a position to feel sorry for ourselves or not think we're good enough. We played against the one of the top teams in the league and I thought we were the better team for most of the night. Not good enough, but if we come back with the same effort (tonight), we have a chance to win."
Of all the things the Leafs worried about before last night, getting a big lead on goalie Ryan Miller and the 101-point Sabres had to rank at the bottom. Yet the Leafs, who have eight games left, had an unsettling feeling after Boyd Devereaux made it 4-1 at 3:52 of the third.
"I turned to (assistant coach) Keith Acton and said 'We're going in the box,' " coach Paul Maurice said. Soon after, Pavel Kubina was whistled for tripping. Thomas Vanek scored with Kubina in the box. Daniel Briere added another just two seconds after White exited the box, a penalty that came not long after Kubina's.
"To be honest, I liked it more at 2-1 or 3-1 than 4-1," Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft said. "You knew they were going to be gunning for us."
Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford struck 20 seconds apart, while Sundin was stopped on a Miller pad save near the buzzer in the season-high 44th shot the Sabres have given up in a game.
The line of Matt Stajan, Devereaux and Alex Steen was a bonus for the Leafs, supplying secondary scoring after Sundin's line carried the team recently. Darryl Sittler continues to trail Sundin home and road in anticipation the Swede will score a goal to tie him at 389 for first in franchise history. Sundin helped the returning Tomas Kaberle set up Bryan McCabe for his first goal in a month.
Stajan scored for the first time since Feb. 20, and an assist.
"You blow a 4-1 lead to these guys, it's not fun, but we can play with them," Stajan said. "My line played well and everyone was going well the first 45 minutes."
A- Forwards: You can probably count Ryan Miller's difficult games on one hand, but the Leafs mauled the Sabres down low and set the table for big goals.
C Defence: Did enough to blunt the dangerous Sabres offence at even strength. But they faded in the third.
C Goaltending: Andrew Raycroft allowed one even-strength goal, but could he not survive the blitz in the third.