|Ray Whitney and Frantisek Kaberle had a lot to celebrate about on Tuesday night as the Hurricanes blitzed the Maple Leafs 7-1.
If it continues, it’s anyone’s guess what the ramifications will be for a franchise that felt it was primed to return to the postseason after missing by a point last spring.
The Maple Leafs allowed seven unanswered goals at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night in an embarrassing 7-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes – a team that came to town having scored just six goals in its first three games.
A little more than 24 hours earlier, the Leafs announced that forward Jason Blake had been diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia – a rare form of the disease. Blake is undergoing treatment and was in the lineup, but the Leafs failed to generate much offensively. After Bryan McCabe scored on a two-man power play 4:21 into the game, the Leafs were held off the scoreboard for the final 55:39. Carolina goalie Cam Ward finished with 27 saves.
“We didn’t play our best … not even close,” Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala said.
With an assist on McCabe’s goal, Toronto captain Mats Sundin tied Darryl Sittler for the franchise’s all-time lead in points with 916. The two are tied for the lead in goals with 389 apiece.
McCabe’s goal was just about the last thing that went right for the Maple Leafs.
Justin Williams, Cory Stillman and Matt Cullen paced the Canes (2-1-1) with a goal and two assists each. Meanwhile, Toskala was often left by himself between the pipes for the Leafs (1-2-1), allowing seven goals on 39 shots. If anything, Toskala’s grip on the No. 1 job over Andrew Raycroft was loosened tremendously. Toskala was coming off a 25-save effort on Saturday in Toronto’s 4-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
Ray Whitney, Scott Walker, Jeff Hamilton and Eric Staal also scored for Carolina, which went 4-for-8 on the power play.
Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette is using five forwards when his team has an extra skater. For one night, at least, it paid off.
''When the other team is coming at our two forwards at the back end, it's nail-biting time, but the flip side of that is we've got five dangerous players on the ice,'' Laviolette said.
The Hurricanes looked like the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2005-06, rather than the club that missed the playoffs last season.
''When we won, everything was easy, and when we lost it was a battle,'' Stillman said. ''You could see it on our faces when you watch video of last year. 'Guys were dragging through the season. But now we're excited to be back. We're a stronger team. Everybody is healthy and ready to play.''
Williams tied the game at 1-1 with his first goal of the season 6:46 into the game. The speedy forward waited for Toskala to drop to his knees before firing a wrist shot into the top corner.
“Sometimes you really need a reminder of how hard it is to win in this League,” Williams said. “Our top three lines are as potent as any in the League. We’re hoping this win will be a springboard to more offensive production.”
It was a tremendous season debut for Stillman, who missed the first three games of the regular season after being involved in a car accident. His power-play goal with 23.8 seconds remaining in the first period gave the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead and proved to be the game-winner.
“At the start, I was a step behind,” Stillman said. “As the game went on, I felt a lot better and I felt more comfortable with the puck.”
Cullen – reacquired by the Canes over the summer from the New York Rangers – made it a two-goal game during a power play when he redirected a Stillman feed past Toskala for his first goal of the season.
A defensive lapse by the Leafs translated into another Carolina goal at 17:23 of the second. Cullen sent Whitney in all alone on Toskala, and Whitney ripped a shot between the goaltender’s legs for his first goal of the season. By then, the Leafs were cooked.
“It was a flat effort by the whole group, and that’s it,” Sundin said. “Really, there’s no excuses to have an effort like that. It’s not like we’re in the middle of a tough schedule. We just weren’t good, and that’s the bottom line. It was bad, it was frustrating.”
The Leafs spent the third period being serenaded by ACC’s boo birds. After Walker made it 5-1 at 1:35 with another power-play goal, Hamilton added another extra-man goal at 5:07. With Andy Wozniewski in the penalty box, Hamilton fired a slap shot from the right circle that caught the top corner for his second goal of the season. Staal rounded out the scoring with 5:53 remaining when he squeezed the puck between the left post and Toskala’s skate for his fourth goal in as many games.
Leafs coach Paul Maurice didn’t see this one coming,
“You can’t get beat like that and not be surprised,” Maurice said. “We were in the game until late in the second period, then they got that fourth goal and we were in a world of trouble. We tried to play someone else’s game, and that’s a mistake. We don’t have their speed or transition game. We do other things well, but we don’t have their speed.”
Material from wire services was used in this report.