Leafs left defenceless

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:13 PM ET

Any chance the Maple Leafs had of making the playoffs -- and they have been slim to none for some time -- are pretty much dead now.

Not only did the Leafs fall to the Edmonton Oilers 4-1 last night at the Air Canada Centre, keeping them nine points out of a playoff spot, they lost two more defencemen in the process -- Mike Van Ryn and Jonas Frogren, both of whom went down with the dreaded lower body injury.

Van Ryn, who already has missed 38 games this season because of injures, may be gone for the season.

That's three regulars out on defence (Tomas Kaberle has been out for four games with a hand injury), with two of the newcomers general manager Brian Burke acquired on trade deadline day, Erik Reitz (ankle) and Jamie Heward (concussion), hurt before they got to Toronto, meaning the Leafs will have to call up defencemen from the AHL Marlies or sign a free agent.

Reitz and Kaberle still are at least a week away from returning.

The Leafs started the season with nine NHL-calibre defencemen. Rarely have even six been healthy at one time.

"It can be (dangerous)," Leafs defenceman Jeff Finger said of the perils of playing D. "There's pucks flying, sticks flying, bodies flying ... it can be tough at times. But that's the name of the game. That's hockey."

The Leafs had only four healthy defencemen for more than two full periods in the physical contest against the Oilers and fatigue became a factor very quickly, at least with Ian White, who twice got burned for goals in the middle frame, as Edmonton went ahead 3-1.

Still, despite being short-handed, the home side played well offensively, firing 40 shots at Edmonton goaltender Dwayne Roloson, while Toronto goaler Martin Gerber faced only 18, although, of the three that beat him, two were on breakaways and one was from low in the slot.

Head coach Ron Wilson has said that the Leafs are going to try to leave the Marlies largely untouched as the AHL playoffs approach. But with this latest rash of injuries, it's likely they will call up Jaime Sifers and Anton Stralman. As for Van Ryn, the first-year Leaf generally has been the best blueliner when he has played, but it has been a nightmare season health-wise.

"He's played so well, that's the bad part of it," Wilson said. "He's really made an impression on me. Hopefully he can come back healthy and ready for next year."

The four Leafs D-men left with Van Ryn and Frogren down -- White, Finger, Luke Schenn, and Pavel Kubina -- all played over 25 minutes with White actually breaking the 30-minute mark.

"It's rather bizarre," White said of Van Ryn's luck. "I've never seen anything like that before, besides Carlo (Colaiacovo). Some guys just seem to have the injury bug and can't shake it."

Alexei Ponikarovsky, who had only one point in the past seven games, put Toronto up 1-0 with a power-play goal early in the second period (his 18th goal of the season) when he deposited his own rebound past Roloson. But 21 seconds later, Ales Hemsky tied it on a breakaway, beating Gerber low to the blocker side, after White coughed up the puck.

Kyle Brodziak then put the Oilers ahead on another breakaway with White caught out of position, firing the puck between Gerber's legs.

Edmonton went up 3-1 when Fernando Pisani was left alone in the slot.

The Oilers sealed it with an open net goal by Brodziak with 28 seconds left.


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