Definition of free fall

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

With a dark cloud of gloom and doom hovering over the Maple Leafs offices these days, Jason Blake decided to make a bold statement to anyone who would listen.

Surrounded by about 20 reporters wanting to know what has been ailing his team this season, Blake, fresh off the Leafs' morning skate, pointed at last night's game against the rival Montreal Canadiens as being a litmus test.

"We're all adults in here," Blake said yesterday. "It's up to us to be accountable. And it starts tonight.

"Tonight will define us as a hockey team."

Ten hours later, as Blake and the rest of the Leafs dejectedly skated off the Air Canada Centre ice after dropping a heartbreaking 4-3 shootout decision, it was time to examine how these Maple Leafs, in Blake's words, should be defined.

The verdict?

It is a team that continuously blows leads, something they did on two separate occasions last night.

It is a team of underachievers, a concept Blake, who has just two goals in 25 games, understands all too well.

It is a team that, frankly, is pathetic in shootouts, going 0-3 this season and 7-17 in club history.

It is a team that is in a precarious free fall, having lost seven of its past eight outings.

And in the circus-type atmosphere that surrounds the Leafs, it is a team whose frustrated fans want someone to pay, with general manager John Ferguson and coach Paul Maurice topping the list.

Ferguson and Maurice may survive the season, especially after Richard Peddie, the president of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., claimed Monday that the organization was not actively looking to replace either man.

But how patient can management be, especially with a team that is on course to miss the playoffs for a third consecutive time?

Blake, fittingly, ended the game when his shootout attempt was stopped by Habs goaltender Carey Price.

It has been a trying season for the veteran forward, who peppered Price with eight shots before being thwarted in the shootout. Blake ranks among the league leaders with 110 shots this season, yet has only found the back of the net twice.

Blake shot down suggestions that he might be struggling because of the leukemia he was diagnosed with almost two months ago.

"I actually feel better on a game-to-game basis than I did last year," he said. "I'm not sure. Maybe it's the medicine. Maybe if I start feeling like crap again, they'll start going in for me."

Asked if his five-year, $20 million US contract is weighing on him, Blake simply shrugged his shoulders.

"I'm getting good chances and all I do is hit the goalie in the chest," he said.

"Sometimes I wonder if there is a goalie standing behind the goalie."

Blake did help set up the winning goal, charging the net before captain Mats Sundin swooped in to knot the score at 3-3 with just 18 seconds remaining.

Sundin was the only Leaf to score in the shootout.

The Habs, meanwhile, got goals from Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn, leaving Toronto goaltender Vesa Toskala 0-6 in shootouts for his career.

To be fair, the Leafs played hard, outshooting the visitors 46-30 and exhibiting heart throughout.

But those ingredients alone won't be enough to push this team into the post-season, especially if the results are not there.

REPLAY

TURNING POINT

Mats Sundin scored with 17.5 seconds left on the clock to send the game to overtime.

NIK & TUCK

Now you see him, and now Andrei Markov didn't. Nik Antropov turned Markov inside-out, then back in again, when he stickhandled the puck through the Montreal defenceman's legs to get a close-in chance at Carey Price in the first period.

OOPS

Playing short-handed in the first period, Alex Steen and Matt Stajan couldn't connect on a two-on-one break with the pass ending up in the corner. Mark Bell had Mats Sundin open in the slot on a two-on-one in the third but his pass went off the skate of the Habs defenceman.

DON'T GO THERE

The Leafs had to stay out of the penalty box last night. Montreal came into the game with the league's best power play with a 26.8% success rate. Toronto came into the game with the fourth-worst power play with 15 goals in 116 chances for a 13.4% success rate. So what happens? Montreal scores two power-play goals.


Videos

Photos