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Defence improves, just not enough

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by John McCauley

TORONTO - Pat Quinn was preaching defensive responsibilities as the Leafs prepared for the Florida Panthers and his prayers were answered, somewhat.

A couple poor decisions cost the Leafs a point in Saturday's 2-2 draw with the Panthers, despite throwing 48 shots at Trevor Kidd and having a 5-on-3 advantage in overtime.

"We did a lot of good things we just couldn't put the puck in the net," said Darcy Tucker, who started the Leafs comeback after Florida opened up a 2-0 advantage. "Come playoff time when you face a hot goalie you got to be patient and not get frustrated."

Mikael Renberg tweaked his hamstring but didn't leave the game.
Graig Abel Photography
Of late Toronto has suffered from defensive lapses that cost valuable points. Against the Panthers the miscues weren't as glaring but were still present.

Travis Green and Tie Domi got their wires crossed trying to start a rush in their own zone, which gave a gift to tough guy Peter Worrell. Green tried to take the puck behind the net off Domi's stick but both mishandled the exchange and Worrell pounced to open the scoring.

A few minutes later Mikael Renberg was guilty of not getting the puck deep while skating near the top of the offensive zone. A turnover occurred and Olli Jokinen took it the length of the ice and beat Corey Schwab.

Two mistakes equaled two goals and the lost point means the Leafs are tied with the Ottawa Senators for fourth in the Eastern Conference with four games to go. Home ice advantage is on the line in the opening round and the Leafs would like to start on friendly turf.

"We said at the start this was the biggest game of the year," said Sundin, who tied the game up with 39th of the year. "We're in a battle with Ottawa and we don't want to start the playoffs in Ottawa. We want to start the playoffs on home ice."

Florida isn't even dreaming about the playoffs anymore. The struggling squad was playing a trap game, dumping the puck out even when they had control and that didn't help the frustration level. Things got chippy in the last two periods.

Peter Worrell nailed Domi, at least three seconds after he passed the puck, just inside the Panthers blueline in the second. The Leafs enforcer seemed to hurt his shoulder on the play but didn't miss a shift.

Domi's temper boiled over in the third, working against Worrell behind the net. The Panthers forward had a hold on Domi and then cross-checked him to the ice. The Leafs retained the puck, and after a point shot, Domi returned the favour. The retaliation and a little extra talk resulted in a four-minute penalty kill, but no harm was done to Toronto.

The rough stuff continued in OT when Sandis Ozolinsh took some liberties with Aki Berg. Both went to the box but the Panthers got the extra two minutes. Igor Ulanov later took a slashing penalty to give Toronto a 5-on-3 advantage but they couldn't get it past Kidd.

"With officiating like that you shouldn't lose that many games," Panthers Head Coach Mike Keenan said in jest of the Leafs OT opportunity.

NOTES: Garry Valk was a scratch with a shoulder injury. He is day-to-day ... Jyrki Lumme said he was pretty sure he would play on Monday ... Many players complained about the ice ... Curtis Joseph practiced with light pucks without problem during the day ... Renberg tweaked his hamstring in the second period but didn't miss a shift. He may take Monday's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets off to rest the injury but he was feeling fine after the game ... Sundin has a six-game point-scoring streak.
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