Leafs zapped in overtime

Tampa Bay Lightning players celebrate their overtime win as Toronto Maple Leafs' Francois...

Tampa Bay Lightning players celebrate their overtime win as Toronto Maple Leafs' Francois Beauchemin reacts in Thurday's game in Tampa, Florida. (Mike Carlson/Reuters)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

TAMPA -- Forget talk of the Maple Leafs earning six points on this road trip. Forget the notion they can deal with the urgency that special teams requires. And you can just about forget any spring playoff miracle, now that they are 10 points out of eighth spot with 30 games to play.

A 3-2 Sunshine State meltdown on Thursday night leaves Toronto a shaken squad, questioning how it can keep ruining the good work it puts into the early part of games. After falling behind so many times put them near the basement in the Eastern Conference, now they are blowing leads under strange circumstances. And the games are starting to dwindle, coinciding with a meeting of Leafs pro scouts and general manager Brian Burke on Friday in Fort Lauderdale to assess the NHL meat market.

ILLEGAL CHANGE

Just 3:49 away from closing to within three points of Tampa, their nearest rival in the standings, Alexei Ponikarovsky was whistled for a legit boarding call. But after Ryan Malone tied it up, Ponikarovsky threw a hissy fit, slammed the bench door and went right back into the box, forcing the Leafs to play 3-on-4 a second time.

They survived to overtime, but a winded Matt Stajan and an oncoming Wayne Primeau were caught on an illegal line change before Martin St. Louis won it on a power-play blast with 9.8 seconds to go.

"It's ridiculous, one after the other," defenceman Ian White said, referring to many of the 15 one-goal losses this year, 10 in overtime or shootouts. "Bottom line, we keep shooting ourselves in the foot, especially against these (playoff outsiders)."

The frustration level was evident with rookie goalie Jonas Gustavsson, who could be seen cursing his luck after the tying goal, then smashed his stick and stormed off following the winner. He was bidding to become the first Leafs goalie in a month to win two starts in a row and to tie Mikael Tellqvist's 2005-06 mark as the last rookie Leafs stopper to win 10 games.

"It was a tough break and a tough way to lose," said Stajan, who had given the Leafs a 2-1 lead. "They changed lines at the same time, so if we had too many men, they had too many. But we can't take penalties when we haven't been able to kill them all year. We have to do a better job keeping our composure.

One-goal leads with less than 10 minutes to play ... we should win those."

The Leafs are now 1-1-1 on this four-game road trip, which wraps up Saturday against the Panthers, another teams in the sorry pack they must somehow leapfrog.

White ended a personal goal slump of 12 games to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead, but Primeau botched an easy clearing attempt and Jason Blake's stick broke on Tampa's first goal by Steven Stamkos.

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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