Disastrous combo hurts Leafs

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

The intermission message in the Maple Leafs dressing room was to the point and presumably simple enough to grasp.

With a 3-0 lead, the first 10 minutes of the second period were going to be crucial.

Apparently, something was lost in the translation for tough guy forward Ryan Hollweg, who had no thoughts of penance following a two-game suspension to start the season.

Hollweg's idea of making a statement was to run St. Louis Blues rookie Alex Pietrangelo from behind, pasting him into the boards.

The resulting five-minute major changed the complexion of the game and ultimately played the biggest role in allowing the Blues to escape the Air Canada Centre with a 5-4 shootout victory that probably shouldn't have been.

"It's debatable how you call that as a penalty, but obviously Ryan is a repeat offender and the referees are aware of that," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said sticking up for his troubled forward who faces an automatic three-game suspension.

"But you have to put that aside and kill the penalty or at least limit the damage and we didn't."

There was no debate from 18-year-old Pietrangelo or the rest of the Blues, who got their payback quickly on the scoreboard.

With the Leafs on their heels after allowing Brad Boyes to bury a rebound past Vesa Toskala 33 seconds into the period, the Blues pounced on the opportunity presented by Hollweg.

Power-play goals by Patrik Berglund and Keith Tkachuk less than a minute apart tied it and suddenly an impressive Leafs lead was wasted.

"It's tough," Toskala said. "They have a good power play and lots of skilled guys. We just have to stay out of the box, I guess."

Even tougher for Toskala, who watched the Blues power-play unit of Tkachuk, Paul Kariya and Andy McDonald buzz around him for five minutes, was seeing how his team squandered a similar opportunity.

With a two-man advantage later in the period, the slow motion Leafs power-play unit could muster just two non-threatening shots on Blues goaltender Manny Legace.

"Our power play needs a lot of work to stay the least," Wilson said. "We got stagnant. We had too many guys thinking of scoring instead of moving the puck around.

"We might have been able to settle it with that extended three-on-three."

Instead, the Leafs will have to settle with a single point and their first squandered opportunity of the young season.

The Blues had shootout goals by McDonald and Boyes -- both on nifty dekes -- while only Nikolai Kulemin counted for the Leafs.

The loss negated the energetic first period, an encouraging sign given the game was less than 48 hours after Saturday's 6-1 drubbing to the Montreal Canadiens.

Tomas Kaberle opened the scoring at the 3:22 mark of the first period on a clever pass from Mike Van Ryn. Kulemin, who rapidly is becoming the Leafs highlight machine, then fired a precision backhand past Legace.

Alex Ponikarovsky made it 3-0 before the period ended, the second consecutive goal created by the aggressive Leafs forecheck that had so much success in the season-opening win over the Red Wings in Detroit on Thursday.

St. Louis took a 4-3 lead on Tkachuk's fourth goal of the young season but Nik Hagman's first as a Leaf with six minutes lfet tied it at four.

"We did lots of things right," said Toskala, who made a huge save on Kariya in the final minute of overtime. "A couple of mistakes cost us, but overall it was a pretty good effort."

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REPLAY

T.O. TRIFECTA

When Nik Hagman put the Leafs up 4-3 late in the second period it was his first goal in blue and white. And it wasn't the only maiden to be broken on the play -- John Mitchell and Jamal Mayers earned assists for their first points as Leafs.

POWER OUTAGE

Despite a two-man advantage in the second period, the Leafs couldn't mount much of an attack on the Blues, managing just two non-threatening shots on goaltender Manny Legace, much to the disapproval of the 19,045 in the Thanksgiving Day crowd at the Air Canada Centre.

SINGIN' THE BLUES

It took a shootout to do it this time, but the Blues have now won their past six games at the Air Canada Centre dating back to the 1999-2000 season. Yesterday's matinee was the only regular-season meeting between the former Norris Division combatants.

ROOKIE BLUES

The Leafs third goal came on a classic rookie blunder by Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo, whose blind backhanded pass behind his own net ended on the stick of Jason Blake. A quick Blake feed to Alex Ponikarovsky made for an easy goal and what looked like the beginning of a rout.

POINT-GETTERS

Toronto G A P

Nik Antropov 0 2 2

Tomas Kaberle 1 0 1

Nikolai Kulemin 1 0 1

Alexei Ponikarovsky 1 0 1

Niklas Hagman 1 0 1

Mike Van Ryn 0 1 1

Jason Blake 0 1 1

John Mitchell 0 1 1

Jamal Mayers 0 1 1

St. Louis

Brad Boyes 1 1 2

Paul Kariya 1 1 2

Patrik Berglund 1 1 2

Andy McDonald 0 2 2

KeithTkachuk 1 0 1

David Perron 0 1 1

Steve Wagner 0 1 1

NEXT UP

Friday at New York Rangers, 7 p.m., SNO/AM640


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