If the Carolina Hurricanes come up short in their quest for a playoff berth, they'll rue games like Wednesday's.
Carolina outshot Toronto 37-19, had 84 attempted shots to just 36 for the Leafs -- but lost 3-1 before a disappointed gathering at the RBC Center that saw Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf score twice and set up Toronto's third goal.
"The effort is there," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "The finish isn't."
Toronto, which has playoff hopes of its own, moved within two points of the Hurricanes with 72 points and is now 12-5-5 since the All-Star break. Carolina remained two behind the idle Buffalo Sabres for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot.
There was conjecture before the game that Leafs coach Ron Wilson might start veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere in goal after hooking rookie James Reimer in Monday's 6-2 loss to Tampa Bay. Unfortunately for the 'Canes, he opted to go with Reimer, a rookie who has grabbed the No. 1 job. Reimer made 36 saves in his 13th consecutive start.
"To be honest, I had a little bit of extra motivation today because I had heard through the grapevine that Tampa Bay had said that something to the effect that I was just a typical Francois Allaire goalie and they knew how to beat me," Reimer said. "I'm not going to lie -- that kind of rubbed me the wrong way and ticked me off."
There was some question before the game whether Reimer was fatigued in his first NHL season.
"I'm sick of hearing that," Wilson said. "(Cam Ward) has played 63 games and he's not tired, but Reimer's supposed to be tired.
"If I don't play Reimer, I'm an idiot, so let's leave that rest. Reims isn't tired -- he's going to have some nights where he's not as good as he is on other nights. That's like everyone in this League."
The 'Canes have had 30 or more shots on goal in each of their last five games, but have just seven goals to show for it. They won 1-0 at Buffalo on Wednesday when Ward stopped all 40 shots he faced, but weren't as fortunate against the Leafs.
"As a team you start gripping your sticks and you start hearing it more," said forward Chad LaRose, whose first-period power-play goal gave Carolina an early lead. "You can't put that whole lot on our goaltender."
LaRose's goal at 12:28 broke an 0-for-28 slump by the Hurricanes' power play, but Phaneuf tied it and gave the Leafs a spark by scoring a power-play goal of his own at 19:01, teeing up a slapper that hit Ward in the shoulder and trickled into the net.
Toronto carried the momentum into the second period and took command by scoring twice in 12 seconds midway through the period. Phaneuf put the Leafs ahead with a power-play slapper at 10:51, then helped set up Tyler Bozak for a quick shot from the lower left circle that beat Ward.
"We got lackadaisical, to be honest," defenseman Tim Gleason said. "They got that one goal at the end of the period, but we had a few minutes to regroup ourselves and come out ready to play. Those were tough goals there. Mistakes are part of the game, but we've got to limit them as much as we can."
The third period saw the 'Canes outshoot Toronto 15-4, but Reimer was unbeatable and Carolina had one of those nights where it seemed every loose puck bounced the other way.
"That second one was there all night," Maurice said. "We just couldn't finish on it."
Material from team media was used in this report.