Leafs: Rough returns

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- As Andrew Raycroft hunched over in his goal crease last night at the Nassau Coliseum, the catcalls rained down on him.

Making his first appearance in the Maple Leafs nets since being yanked early in a 5-1 loss to the Coyotes on Nov. 24 in Phoenix, a jittery Raycroft had already been beaten three times on 14 shots by the scoring-challenged New York Islanders.

Now, just five minutes into the second period, many of the 15,301 fans in attendance were letting him have it.

"Ray-croft ... Ray-croft ... you suck!" they chanted, perhaps echoing the sentiments of many watching the game back home in Toronto.

Not so fast, however.

In the end, Raycroft would not allow another goal in regulation, securing a point for the Leafs with huge back-to-back saves off Mike Sillinger with just 40 seconds remaining in a 3-3 game.

But once again, the Leafs found a way to give away a potential victory.

And it was former Islander Jason Blake who would be the villain, committing a glaring turnover that led to Mike Comrie's game-winner with just 9.6 seconds to play in overtime for the 4-3 Isles victory. The loss dropped Toronto's record in one-goal games to 4-8-2.

Raycroft and Blake certainly were the storylines on this night.

Raycroft was back in goal for the first time in more than a month.

Blake was back at the Coliseum for the first time since signing a five-year, $20-million US pact with the Leafs during the summer.

Had Blake's third-period deflection found the top of the net instead of clanking off the cross bar, both players would have been heroes.

Instead, his overtime gaffe left a frustrated coach Paul Maurice shaking his head.

"He turned the puck over all night, probably because he was excited and trying to do too much," Maurice said.

"You've only got so many seconds left," Blake said of his turnover at the Isles blue line. "You try to make a play."

One, in this instance, that didn't work, leaving Raycroft as the hard-luck loser.

"It's my fourth overtime loss," he said. "I really wanted it to get to a shootout because of all of the practice I've had doing it in the past month.

"It felt like I hadn't played in a month and a half. I had no feel out there."

At least he was prepared to shed that rust, having been told that he would start against the Islanders by Maurice four days ago.

"I made sure I didn't drink too much egg nog the past few days," Raycroft laughed.

Maurice did not have much of a choice in starting Raycroft, since No. 1 goalie Vesa Toskala is out indefinitely.

Toskala has been battling tightness in his groin muscles and had hoped the three-day Christmas break would alleviate the ailment. But after taking part in the morning skate, both he and the Leafs decided it was better to shut him down on a day-to-day basis.

Goalie Scott Clemmensen was quickly brought in from the Marlies and backed up Raycroft last night.

Asked if he was concerned about Toskala's predicament, Maurice replied: "Not right now. But I might be if it is the same in three or four days."

It's doubtful Toskala will be available for tonight's game in Philadelphia although, according to Maurice: "You never know how he'll feel in the morning."

Barring that unlikely scenario, Raycroft could see a lot more action in the coming days, a huge turnaround for a guy who has been riding the pines.

"There are days where you wake up not thrilled to come to the rink," he said. "But I'm a pro. It's my job."

The many trade rumours involving his name have not escaped his attention, either.

"Obviously, I don't want to be part of (a deal)," he said. "I love the guys in here. I love the city. At the same time, I know I'm a bit of an asset."

In the past four games, the Leafs have lost twice in overtime and once in the game's final minute. They are 2-3-1 heading into tonight's finale of a seven-game road stint.

The Leafs, meanwhile, lead the league in overtime/shootout losses with eight. If they keep flushing away points like this, a playoff berth will be a long shot, no matter who is in net for them.


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