Leafs miss opportunity

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:50 PM ET

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — In the antiquated building nicknamed the Nassau Mausoleum, the Maple Leafs were in danger of watching their playoff hopes suffer a slow death.

In the end, after the final horn had sounded on their 4-3 overtime loss to the host New York Islanders on Tuesday night, that’s exactly the feeling you got standing inside the sombre Leaf dressing room.

Yes, the Leafs did salvage a key point on the road.

Yes, thanks to a 3-1 loss by the Buffalo Sabres to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Leafs managed to creep to within four points of the eighth-place Sabres, who still hold a game in hand.

But, for the moment, none of that seemed to wash away the bitter disappointment of flushing away the opportunity to grab a victory against a team below them in the standings.

To a man, the Leafs admitted they had let this prime chance slip through their clutches.

“Right now, it sucks,” goaltender James Reimer said. “Maybe in the morning, we’ll look at getting a point on the road in a tough building and see the positives. But not right now.”

While addressing the media, Reimer’s left index finger was wrapped in ice. His entire left hand had gone temporarily numb after making a glove save in overtime but, fortunately, the feeling returned to it within seconds.

Unfortunately for the Leafs, Blake Comeau made the entire visitors’ bench feel numb minutes later when he deflected home a point shot for the overtime winner with just 57.3 seconds left before a potential shootout.

Game lost.

Opportunity lost.

“Let’s face it: We didn’t respect our opponent enough,” rookie defenceman Keith (Muhammad) Aulie said. “We came in here and they outplayed us. That should have never happened.”

The loss dampened what should otherwise have been a memorable night for Aulie, who scored his first NHL goal in the second period to give the Leafs their first goal of the game.

“It’s something you dream about since you were a kid,” Aulie said. “It’s a special thing to have happen. But right now, a win would have been more important.”

Aulie’s comments caused many to wonder: Why did this Leafs team not play with more desperation?

“No excuse,” winger Clarke MacArthur said. “I can’t really answer that. Maybe we didn’t give those guys enough credit.”

They should have.

A win would have allowed the Leafs to climb within three points of the Sabres.

Instead, with just the one point, the Leafs now find themselves in 10th place with 68 points. The Carolina Hurricanes are in ninth with 71 points, just behind the Sabres who have 72.

Both the Sabres and Hurricanes hold a game in hand on the Leafs, who will host Buffalo at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday and meet the Canes in Raleigh a week Wednesday.

This wasn’t the first late-season blow the Islanders have delivered to Toronto in recent years.

The worst of these guttings came on the final day of the 2007 season when the Isles visited the New Jersey Devils at the Continental Airlines Arena, a playoff berth in the balance.

The Islanders, with 89 points, needed a victory to leapfrog the Leafs, who had 90 points, to snatch the eighth and final post-season spot right out of Toronto’s hands.

With Leafs players helplessly watching back at home, the Devils and Isles went to a shootout tied at 2-2. Then, with third string Isles goalie Wade Dubielewicz holding the Devils at bay, Viktor Kozlov beat Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen to give the Isles the 3-2 win, squashing the Leafs’ playoff hopes.

A year ago, the Leafs faint post-season aspirations were crushed for good when the Isles laid a 4-1 spanking on Toronto at the Coliseum. With five weeks remaining in the season, the Leafs were officially toast after that setback.

This time around, there is still hope after this loss.

But it is fleeting.


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