Mauling in Manhattan

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:09 AM ET

NEW YORK -- The Rangers kicked the tired Maple Leafs out the back door of Madison Square Garden onto 8th Ave. last night, leaving eighth place the only realistic playoff spot Toronto can attain.

Hopeful of tying the Eastern Conference's No.7 seed with 89 points last night, the overwhelmed Leafs instead found themselves four back of New York, three behind Tampa Bay and one behind eighth-place Montreal, burning the game in hand they held on the Habs with the 7-2 mauling in Manhattan.

As the Leafs fell behind last night, Carolina's come-from-behind win over Florida was posted at MSG, moving the Hurricanes a point back of Toronto.

The Leafs also lost defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo. His right leg was already hurt from a stumble into the end boards chasing a puck in the first period, and he was rocked by a couple of hits later in the game and didn't come out for the third.

Clearly, the Rangers had more gas after beating the Flyers the day before, while Toronto, playing its fourth game in six nights,had less time to recover from an overtime win against Pittsburgh.

A GRIND

The Leafs have not dominated back-to-back situations all year, sweeping just twice as they completed their final 48-hour grind last night.

Andrew Raycroft wasn't sharp, yanked by coach Paul Maurice after four goals on 15 shots. But defensive coverage left a lot to be desired, with Rangers rabble rouser Sean Avery doing the most damage, instead of Jaromir Jagr and Co. The Pickering native had the Gordie Howe hat trick -- goal, assist and a fight with Darcy Tucker -- then added another goal on back-up Jean-Sebastien Aubin.

Luck was not on the Leafs side as Mats Sundin's goal slide reached nine games, with just one in the past 17. One blue-line shot that appeared to be going in hit a falling Kyle Wellwood in the rear end in the crease, while a Pavel Kubina shot was swept off the goal-line by Dan Girardi and Tucker hit a crossbar.

The Leafs drew first blood on an iffy penalty to Jaromir Jagr, tagged with anaccidental elbow to Alex Steen. With a little help from referee Kelly Sutherland getting in the way of a puck at the boards, Sundin was able to set up Alexei Ponikarovsky for a five-hole goal. That matched Ponikarovsky's career best of 21.

But a weak Colaiacovo clear was snared by Avery and whipped over a screenedRaycroft.

The Leafs had further issues in their own zone, leading to New York's second goal.

CROSSED UP

They were crossed up when Brad Isbister put on the brakes while being hounded by Boyd Devereaux, allowing Michael Nylander to take the puck out of the corner, elude three Leafs and get Raycroft down and out for an easy goal.

Local fan favourite Avery did enough prodding to get Leafs such as Kubina off their game that Tucker took matters into his own hands. After getting two minute for roughing Avery, Tucker threw down the gauntlet, which Avery first refused, then took up the fight with zeal.

Tucker landed one good shot before a flurry of punches by both ended with Avery falling on top of the Leaf.

Devereaux tipped a Kubina shot to tie it before the first period ended, but Raycroft lost sight of fourth liner Mark Callahan's high shot rebound that landed behind him and rolled over the line. That was followed by Avery falling on a shot attempt, but sweeping it in the direction of the net off Bryan McCabe to a wide open Martin Straka.

That was all for Raycroft, with second referee Brad Watson repaying the bad bounce off Sutherland by inadvertentlyhelping Avery get his second to make it 5-2. Michal Rozsival and Jagr had the other Ranger goals, with Jagr's coming later in the game to go with a couple of assists.

REPORT CARD

D Forwards: After an early power-play gift, the Leafs missed some great chances and were out-worked by the Rangers. Still no goals for Mats Sundin.

D Defence: Lots of woes getting the puck out of danger and lost Carlo Colaiacovo.

D Goaltending: Andrew Raycroft's string of strong games ended with a splat. He made key positional errors before being lifted for Jean-Sebastien Aubin.


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