Leafs fall short, again

Patrick Dwyer celebrates his goal with Hurricanes teammates Jiri Tlusty (left) and Rod Brind'Amour...

Patrick Dwyer celebrates his goal with Hurricanes teammates Jiri Tlusty (left) and Rod Brind'Amour (right) last night. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

At least the Maple Leafs are consistent.

Last night, they gave up the first goal, again -- the 34th time in 47 games.

They outshot the opposition, again -- this time 40-18.

And lost, again.

In a matchup between the two Eastern Conference bottom-feeders, the resurging Carolina Hurricanes rode goaltender Cam Ward to a 4-2 victory over the punchless Leafs, who continue to outplay the opposition, only to fall short.

Patrick Dwyer scored the winner for Carolina at 15:34 of the third, on a deflection in front of Toronto goaltender Jonas Gustavsson. Joni Pitkanen earned his third assist of the game on the play.

Ward was outstanding, making made 38 saves, while Gustavsson stopped 15, and admitted afterward that it is tough to stay sharp when most of the action is in the other end.

“The perfect game is when they shoot all the time from a far distance, so you can feel the puck all the time,” the rookie goalie said. “So, of course, it’s a little bit tricky to stay warm.”

Especially frustrating for the Leafs is that they had numerous chances to take the lead late in the game, but couldn’t beat Ward. Just a few seconds before Dwyer scored the winner, Niklas Hagman rang a shot off the goal post.

“Clearly he had the goalie beat, but that’s an inch,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson of the Hagman shot. “And in this game, an inch here, and inch there, is all it takes.”

A defeated Wilson looked to be about three inches from exploding.

The Leafs had a glorious opportunity to tie it when Ray Whitney took a hooking penalty with 3:09 left, but couldn’t execute a solid chance on goal. To rub salt on the wounds, Whitney came out of the penalty box to score into an open net, with Gustavsson pulled for the extra attacker.

Despite letting in three goals on only 18 shots, Gustavsson couldn’t be totally blamed for the loss, as all three Carolina goals were clear chances after the Leafs defence broke down, including the Dwyer deflection, as the Hurricanes forward was left unmolested.

If there was some positive news for Wilson, it was that the newly formed line of Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin, who scored Toronto’s second goal, and centre Tyler Bozak, who was called up from the Marlies, instantly clicked.

But there are not moral victories when a loss drops you to 15-23-9 and further out of the playoff hunt. The defeat was Toronto’s fourth in a row. The win was Carolina’s third in a row as the Hurricanes improved to 14-24-7.

“We’re digging ourselves into a pretty big hole here and it’s going to be a lot tougher to get out of it,” Leafs defenceman Ian White said. “We’ve got to start winning games at some point. We have to start turning it around.”

Eric Staal and Brandon Sutter, scored the other Carolina goals while Lee Stempniak also scored for the Leafs, his 12th of the season.

Stempniak believes the club’s scoring drought is a combination of the other team’s goalie rising to the occasion and the Leafs lacking a finishing touch.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca


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