SAN JOSE -- With about 17,500 fans doing the Shark power-play chomp, the Maple Leafs snatched another defeat from the jaws of a morale building victory.
But the 3-2 loss to San Jose was more than just two points, it's more ammunition for those in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. to lobby for a change when the club gets home today.
"With all the stuff they're dealing with and the weight that's hanging on them, they came out and played hard," coach Paul Maurice said. "They deserved a better fate. But I can't put a shine on this."
At least his team showed some fight on his behalf, including Mats Sundin in a bumping incident at the buzzer with linesman Lonnie Cameron.
"It was heat of the moment," referee Rob Shick said afterwards. "We look at it and say, is it emotion or is it (physical) abuse? In this case, it was raw emotion."
A good two-period effort collapsed in a series of third-period penalties, handing the Leafs their fifth straight loss, 11th in the past 13 games and another blow to management's hopes of a stay of execution.
Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Craig Rivet scored in the third period, two of the goals coming on a 5-on-3 with the undisciplined Leafs getting too panicky with their lead. But the Leafs vehemently protested a cross check against Hal Gill that put them down two and the Sharks back in the game.
The dagger could further hasten changes at the top when Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. brass gets together this week.
It was a one-game surge powered by nostalgic ex-Shark Vesa Toskala, who made more than 30 saves, but general manager John Ferguson needed more than 40 minutes' worth of a miracle.
The Leafs rediscovered what it was like to play with a lead, opening the scoring for the first time in four games, as well as feeding off some early Toskala saves. Pressing the issue, they jumped on a slow breakout by the Sharks, with Sundin closing down the boards and setting up Nik Antropov.
It was the latter's second goal in as many games after 10 games without a point and Sundin's 40th career point against the Sharks.
After Antropov had rattled Evgeni Nabokov with an accidental knee to the head, Pavel Kubina came down the goalie's left side and ripped a five-hole shot for his third goal of the season. With Boyd Devereaux off, for coming to the aid of a roughed up Ian White, Toskala finally was beaten on a Patrick Marleau shot.
Sharks' Jeremy Roenick spelled it out for the Leafs before they arrived at the Shark Tank yesterday.
"I can imagine what it's like there," the long-time Leaf antagonist said. "You get that feeling that everyone in the world is against you and you sit back and say: 'We need help'. But it's the good teams that use that (adversity) as motivation."
The Leafs had plenty of woe to hoe heading into San Jose, with general manager Ferguson and/or Maurice getting down to their last strike and many players unsure of their future under any new regime.
Winger Darcy Tucker, one of several plodding Leafs who had a spring in their step last night, said the players weren't thinking Ferguson/Maurice big-picture stuff at game time.
"We just have to go out and play hard, because nothing has changed for us in that aspect," Tucker said. "Those are the challenges for us as a group."
Another lopsided loss should be enough to jolt MLSEL into action or invest in ear plugs for Tuesday night, when the Leafs return to face their fickle faithful at the Air Canada Centre.
Last night they went with Toskala, judging that his experience and determination to impress his old team out-weighed the youthful exuberance of Marlies call-up Justin Pogge.
"I wouldn't risk anything if I didn't feel good," Toskala said.
While hesitating to throw Pogge into the fire, at least until there are more favourable circumstances, Maurice had no trouble putting 186-game veteran centre Dominic Moore into the lineup, sitting John Pohl.
To Moore, the Leafs' off-ice problems were secondary to making a good first impression.
"To be honest, we don't see a lot of the Eastern teams where I was." Moore said, "I've heard a bit about what has been going on."
Guaranteed, he'll be a lot more in tune this week.
Hal Gill was called for cross checking midway through the third, sending the Leafs down by two men.
STAR OF THE GAME
Joe Thornton had two assists and bulled his way to the net to provoke the Leafs.
STAT OF THE GAME
The Leafs gave up a power-play goal for the fifth straight game, all losses.
Nik Antropov nearly made himself the most wanted man in the state when he accidentally kneed Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov in the head. Nabokov tried to milk it for a penalty.
Ex-Shark Toskala was accorded one of the loudest rounds of applause for a Maple Leaf in a visiting building in recent memory. He responded with more than 30 saves.