Leafs crash and burn

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Many more nights like this and the impending implosion of the Maple Leafs can't come soon enough.

Proving yet again that they can't stand prosperity, the Leafs squandered a juicy 4-1 lead in the final nine minutes of a disastrous third period against the Florida Panthers.

This time the Leafs collapse was as swift as it was sorry, a 5-4 overtime loss before 13,764 at the BankAtlantic Center.

Richard Zednik was the emotional hero for the Panthers, scoring a pair of goals including the overtime winner, a year to the day that he nearly lost his life.

"I don't look back, I only look forward," said Zednik, who had an artery in his neck slashed by a teammate in a game against Buffalo and missed the rest of the season. "I'm glad I'm here and I still can enjoy hockey."

Glad as well to be the beneficiary of the Leafs' sloppy, tired play in the final 10 minutes of a game they had no business giving away.

The debacle started just 26 seconds after beleaguered Nik Antropov scored his 17th of the season to open up the three-goal Leafs lead. Nathan Horton pounced on a bad bounce and caught Toskala flat-footed and the gates were open.

With the Leafs on their heels, Velli Peltonen put the Panthers within one at 10:48, setting the stage for Zednik, who scored the equalizer at 14:31 of the third and the winner 1:08 into the extra period.

CAN'T HOLD LEAD

"We just couldn't hold onto the lead again," said forward Nik Hagman, who was on his way to being the star of the night for the Leafs, scoring his 15th and 16th goals of the season. "That obviously separates us from (the Panthers). They are battling for a playoff spot. We didn't play smart enough or hard enough."

Or, for the second consecutive Tuesday night, long enough.

A week earlier at the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs blew a 3-1 lead to the Panthers, losing 4-3 in overtime on a blast from former teammate Bryan McCabe.

It didn't help that the Leafs essentially were reduced to four defencemen in the third last night. Jonas Frogren suffered a suspected sprained knee late in the second period while Leafs coach Ron Wilson had Marlies call-up Jaime Sifers pinned to the bench.

"They got a lucky bounce on the second goal and we got caught out of position," Wilson said. "(The Panthers) got a little excited, obviously, to get back in the game and we could never grab a hold of it.

"We lost our poise and in overtime we made a couple of bad decisions, probably tired decisions."

The late collapse spoiled a strong start to the Leafs' three-game road trip which began with a 5-2 win in Montreal on Saturday.

The journey continues tomorrow across the Sunshine State in Tampa with a date against the Lightning.


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