|Matt Stajan now leads the league with eight
shorthanded points. (Graig Abel Photography)
March 11, 2006
TORONTO (CP) -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are now chasing a different team for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are now the target after the defending Stanley Cup champions dropped a spot in the standings, thanks to a 5-1 loss to the Leafs on Saturday night.
"We're not out in our minds until the last bell goes,'' said Leafs coach Pat Quinn, whose team has suddenly picked up five of the last six points up for grabs.
Jason Allison recorded his first two-goal game in a Maple Leaf uniform and Toronto rode rock-solid goaltending from Mikael Tellqvist to move to within six points of the fading Lightning. Montreal moved into seventh and stayed seven points ahead of 10th-place Toronto following the Canadiens' 1-0 home victory over the New York Rangers.
"We have to treat every game like a playoff game right now, because they are,'' said Allison, who played his best game in a long time. "I think the guys have and we'll continue that way and we have a lot of confidence that we're going to get in (the playoffs).''
Nik Antropov, Matt Stajan and Mats Sundin also scored for the Maple Leafs (29-28-6), who were kept in a tight game by Tellqvist's stellar play in the first two periods before blowing it open in the third. Tampa outshot Toronto 17-9 in the second period but couldn't beat Tellqvist.
"If we keep playing the way we're playing right now, we should make the playoffs,'' said Tellqvist, who stopped 29 shots.
Ruslan Fedotenko replied for the Lightning (33-27-4), who are 1-5-1 since the Olympic break and risk sliding out of a playoff spot if they don't turn things around soon.
"Right now, it's like we're in the game and we find ways to lose,'' said a frustrated Sean Burke, who made 25 saves in the Tampa goal.
"I thought tonight was going to be that night,'' Burke added, referring to his team snapping out of it. "We're 0-0 after the first period on the road and playing well. But then it all falls apart.''
Tampa, which entered the game with the 25th-ranked power play, was once again let down in that department, going 0-for-7 and giving up a crucial short-handed goal to Stajan.
"They probably had more chances on our power plays than we had,'' said Tampa centre Brad Richards, not hiding his displeasure.
Next up for struggling Tampa is a big game at Montreal on Monday, followed by a tough one in Ottawa on Tuesday.
"Every game is huge right now,'' said Richards. "We're going to get out of this.''
A crowd of 19,431 at Air Canada Centre saw a sloppy affair featuring two struggling teams. Missed passes and turnovers were the name of the game.
Toronto opened the scoring on a 5-on-3 power play 5:55 into the second, Allison backhanding a rebound past veteran Burke after a blast from the point by Tomas Kaberle.
From there the Lightning pressed for much of the second, only to by stymied by Tellqvist, who stopped fellow Swedish Olympic gold medallist Fredrik Modin in close with a skate save when it looked like the Lightning winger had him down and out.
Tampa head coach John Tortorella couldn't hide the disgust on his face late in the period when Stajan and Alex Steen broke in short-handed on a 2-on-1 break, Stajan choosing to keep and beat Burke on the short side with a wrist shot at 17:19.
"If I can make that save it's still 1-0,'' said Burke, criticizing himself. "Right now we're not making the big plays.''
The Lightning came out flying in the third and it finally paid off when Fedotenko walked out from the corner untouched and rifled a wrist shot high over Tellqvist's stick side to make it 2-1 at 6:23.
But the momentum shift was shortlived when the much-maligned Allison scored his second of the night and 13th of the season at 7:47.
"We were playing well right up until the third goal, let's face it. And that deflated us,'' an agitated Tortorella said.
Sundin made it 4-1 at 10:08 on Toronto's second 5-on-3 man advantage of the night, beating Burke high on the glove side from the faceoff circle with a blistering slapshot. Allison picked up an assist for a three-point night.
Antropov rounded out the scoring with only 1:24 left with a one-timer along the ice that beat Burke inside the post.
Notes: Veteran winger Jeff O'Neill was a healthy scratch, a day after Tie Domi suffered the same fate in Toronto's 2-1 shootout loss on Long Island ... Centre Eric Lindros (wrist) and defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo (concussion) were out again for Toronto ... Wingers Rob DiMaio (herniated disc) and Nick Tarnasky (elbow) were out for Tampa ... The legendary Hanson Brothers were on hand ... Tellqvist has Toronto's only shutout of the season, blanking Atlanta 4-0 on Dec. 1.