Nasty loss for Leafs

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:40 AM ET

ATLANTA -- In case it wasn't already obvious to any team that faces the Atlanta Thrashers, there's one more way to identify Ilya Kovalchuk.

He's the guy with the 'C' on the front of his sweater.

Apparently that was invisible last night in a putrid effort by the Maple Leafs at Philips Arena. Not only did they blow a 3-0 lead to the lowly Thrashers, they fell 4-3 in overtime in what will go down as one of their most miserable efforts of the season.

Recently acquired Rich Peverley scored the game-winner with 1:09 remaining in the four-on-four session, on an assist from Kovalchuk who already had scored a pair of goals, including the one with less than five minutes remaining to send the game to overtime.

"You definitely have got to know who you're are up against," Leafs defenceman Ian White said of Kovalchuk, who was named the Thrashers captain this past Sunday. "He can be a sleeper player, you might not notice him for two periods then all of a sudden he has got a goal and an assist.

White and rookie Luke Schenn seemed to get crossed up on the game-winner in which Peverley was able to get a clear shot on helpless Toronto goaltender Vesa Toskala.

For the second consecutive night, the Leafs got sloppy after building what should have been a healthy enough lead on an opponent. They blew a 4-0 bulge on the Hurricanes on Thursday before sneaking out of North Carolina with a 6-4 win.

There would be no such redemption this night, despite a three-goal lead after the opening 20 minutes. After that, the Leafs were awful, getting outshot 17-3 in the second period alone.

Toronto coach Ron Wilson refused to blame the game on fatigue or any of the textbook excuses. Instead, he blamed it on a struggling group that has won just once in its past six games.

"It's just the team we are, period," Wilson said. "We're not a good team. We have to be focused every single second. If you take your foot off it ... boom, you are out the door."

With the loss, the Leafs dropped the second game of back-to-backs for the fifth time in six tries this season and saw their overtime record slip to 3-7.

First-period goals by Lee Stempniak, Dominic Moore and Niklas Hagman gave the Leafs a lead before the second-period snooze and related crash.

The comeback started with Kovalchuk's first of the night just 1:10 into the second. Bryan Little got Atlanta to within a goal at the 15:38 mark on a goal surrendered by Toskala in which Little slipped a weak backhander through the five-hole.

Kovalchuk's tying score came on a nice fake by Peverley, who cut to the outside and passed in front to his wide-open teammate.

"It's all mental, we've got to find a way to stay focused for the whole 60 minutes," Schenn said. "You think you would be able to do it coming out with a 3-0 lead."

If you are the Leafs, not really.

It was the sixth time this season the struggling team had owned a 3-0 lead on an opponent and four times they have allowed the team to come back and tie.

As for the Thrashers, Kovalchuk has scored seven goals in his past eight games and is 2-0 as the newly minted captain, a superstar trapped on a bad team.

"Hopefully we learned a lesson," Wilson said when asked how the team could let one of the league's big snipers inflict such damage. "All he does is throw the puck at the net. We didn't want to shoot the puck tonight. Simple."

Or simply awful.

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REPLAY

HOOKED

Earlier in the season, Leafs coach Ron Wilson said how he hated facing Atlanta Thrashers goaltender Johan Hedberg because "he always stands on his head" against Toronto. Last night, Hedberg fell flat on his face, surrendering three goals on eight first-period shots and was replaced by Kari Lehtonen for the second.

TRUSTING VESA

Despite it being the second half of back-to-back and the third game in four nights, Wilson stuck with Vesa Toskala last night. Toskala has started 38 of 44 games this season and last night's effort was his seventh in a row.

QUOTE, UNQUOTE

"We've got a lot of nervous ninnies because they read the papers and listen to the radio too much. I've never seen (GM Brian Burke) pull off a blockbuster deal in the middle of the season yet everybody claims that's what he came here to do."

-- Wilson on trade talk surrounding his team.


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