Leafs fall apart ... again

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

BUFFALO -- For the second consecutive time here in the Queen City, the Maple Leafs crumbled as quickly as some of the abandoned factories near the HSBC Arena.

Is their season about to collapse as well?

While seven games into the 2007-08 campaign is far too early to press the panic button, Toronto's third period meltdown in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres last night should send out strong warning signals to management.

Like the fact that this team continues to take stupid penalties.

And has problems with its defensive zone coverage.

And still blows leads.

The evening came to a humiliating end when Bryan McCabe, attempting to clear the puck from out in front of the Leafs net, drilled it off both goal posts before it trickled across the goal line with just 3.7 seconds remaining.

"All right you guys, let's get it over with," McCabe said as reporters poured into the Toronto dressing room after the game.

The devastating loss brought back memories of the previous visit to Buffalo. On March 23, the Leafs held a 4-1 advantage with 18 minutes remaining in regulation only to see the host Buffalo Sabres beat Andrew Raycroft four more times for a remarkable come-from-behind 5-4 victory.

Last night, the Leafs revisited that same story line: Build up an advantage on the scoreboard, carry it into the final 20 minutes, then belch it up in gut-wrenching fashion.

Down 2-0 entering the third, the Sabres outscored the Leafs 4-2 in the final period to force the game to overtime. Jochen Hecht's equalizer with 3:33 remaining in regulation set the stage for the winner, which was credited to Ales Kotalik.

GOAT

While McCabe is wearing the goat horns this morning, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Alex Steen and Mats Sundin were on the ice for all four Buffalo goals in the third, a period in which the Sabres outshot Toronto 19-5. Steen and Sundin finished the game at minus-4 while linemate Jason Blake ended up at minus-3.

Defenceman Pavel Kubina, like many Leafs blue liners, continues to struggle and found himself in the penalty box for the second time in the game when the winning goal was scored.

"I don't know what to say," a miffed Sundin wondered out loud. "We worked hard, created lots of chances and skated with one of the best-skating teams in the NHL. We sat back a bit, we stopped skating a bit and you can't do that against Buffalo.

"It's just too bad it ended the way it did."

Staying out of the sin bin might help for a change. After taking four minors in the third period of a 6-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday, the Leafs were slapped with seven penalties last night while the Sabres were assessed just four.

Through it all the team has shown a disturbing penchant for fading down the stretch. The loss last night marked the fourth time in seven games the Leafs entered the third period either tied or with the lead and couldn't finish the game off with a victory.

Perhaps the lone bright spot for Toronto was the line of Chad Kilger, John Pohl and Nik Antropov. Kilger and Pohl both had three points while Antropov chipped in with two.

But that will hardly come as consolation to the team or its fans. Last night's unlikely finish surely will lead to more calls for the likes of McCabe, Kubina and even GM John Ferguson to hit the road.

All the while, the Sabres can only shake their heads in disbelief at yet another miracle victory over Toronto.

As forward Jason Pominville summed up: "I've never seen a game end that way before."


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