March 9, 2004
GAME: Florida Panthers (24-28-14-3) at Toronto Maple Leafs (37-20-9-3).
TIME: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
A six-game homestand that appeared so promising for the Toronto Maple Leafs could turn very bad in a hurry if their defense fails to regroup for a matchup with the Florida Panthers.
Toronto was perfect through the first half of this homestand with wins over three Eastern Conference clubs that all would make the playoffs if the season ended today - New Jersey, Boston and the New York Islanders.
Things took a turn for the worse Saturday, however, against a team on the outside of the playoff chase as the Leafs fell 5-1 to Buffalo.
"We had no flow and didn't do the little things," said Tie Domi, who was ejected in the first period after his fight with the Sabres' Eric Boulton.
Usually reliable defenseman Tomas Kaberle had two turnovers that led to back-to-back goals for Buffalo's Derek Roy within the game's first 13 minutes. Toronto, outshot 17-6 and outscored 3-0 in the opening 20 minutes, gave up power-play and short-handed tallies.
Coach Pat Quinn, whose Leafs are fighting for the Northeast Division title and the East's top seed, was very disappointed in his defense on Saturday.
"You can't give them good marks tonight," said Quinn, who might change the defensive pairings.
The homestand ends Thursday against league-worst Pittsburgh.
Goalie Ed Belfour, plagued by a sore back, allowed all five goals Saturday after surrendering a total of six in winning his previous five starts.
Belfour's counterpart, Panthers starting netminder Roberto Luongo, also is looking to bounce back.
Luongo has been pulled after two periods in each of Florida's last two games - Wednesday's 5-2 loss to New Jersey and Saturday's 5-3 defeat to Tampa Bay. He stopped just 41 of 50 shots in those losses.
"I'm just not sharp right now in goal, that's the bottom line," said Luongo, who had a 0.97 goals-against average in his previous eight starts.
Valeri Bure scored twice in Saturday's defeat and has seven points in the last six games for Florida, which is eight points behind the Islanders for the East's eighth and final playoff berth.
-- Associated Press