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Leafs Squeak by Panthers

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs


TORONTO (CP) - Head coach Pat Quinn wasn't about to pretend his team had made a full recovery from Saturday's debacle against the Ottawa Senators.

Truth be told, the Toronto Maple Leafs (6-4-2) were somewhat fortunate to snag two points Monday night in a 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers.

"We looked, quite frankly, like we were scared to loose,'' Quinn said. "We expected a little hot potato tonight, not wanting to be the guy with the puck who makes a mistake. Our guys got jittery.''

The game, far from a classic, was decided when Alexei Ponikarovsky's shot _ which was meant to have been a pass _ deflected off Panthers defenceman Mike Van Ryn and between the legs of backup goalie Jamie McLennan at 9:43 of the third period.

From there, veteran Leafs netminder Ed Belfour closed the door and his team, looking like they were feeling the after-effects of Saturday's 8-0 rout at the hands of rival Ottawa, escaped with a win.

"It wasn't one of those games that was very pretty, that's for sure,'' said winger Darcy Tucker, who scored Toronto's first goal and led the team with five shots on goal. "We're obviously a long way from where we want to be, but maybe this is the next step in the transition of trying to make it work and get to the next level.''

Belfour made 31 saves and bounced back from being pulled in the loss to the Senators, hearing chants of "Eddie, Eddie'' from the 19,141 at Air Canada Centre after a series of saves late in the third period, including a big one on Kristian Huselius from in-close.

Former Leaf Gary Roberts scored for the Panthers (6-5-1), who face the Canadiens in Montreal on Tuesday night, the Habs improving to 8-3-1 after beating the Rangers 4-1 in New York on Monday.

Roberts, making his return to Toronto to face his former team after leaving for Florida as a free agent, opened the scoring just 26 seconds into the game, splitting Toronto's top defence pair Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle and flipping a shot over Belfour's left shoulder.

"It was nice to come back here and play,'' said Roberts. "But I would have liked the win. Eddie was great for them.''

Roberts, who had 83 goals and 74 assists in 237 regular-season games with the Leafs, got a mix of cheers and jeers when his name was announced for the goal.

"The fans treated me great here over the years I was here, no question,'' Roberts said.

The Leafs tied it 1-1 less than five minutes later when Tucker completed a nifty three-way passing play on a power-play, one-timing Kyle Wellwood's cross-crease pass into an open net. Jason Allison began the play.

McLennan, making his first start of the season as Florida decided to save star goalie Roberto Luongo for the Canadiens, was sharp despite his lack of use. The backup made 22 saves, including a number from in-close late in the second period with the Leafs pressing, Tucker for one was robbed by a flashy pad save.

Despite a festive crowd, some of them in Halloween garb, the game did not match up to the atmosphere and didn't look like the kind of hockey mostly featured in the new NHL. Some of that blame goes to referees Marc Joannette and Ian Walsh, who didn't call it quit as tightly as the norm has been this season.

"I would agree with that assessment,'' said Quinn, being careful with his words after the NHL fined him last week.

Only three of the 15 minor penalties called were for hooking even though there clearly more hooking infractions than that on the night.

Notes: Forwards Mats Sundin (fractured orbital bone) and Nik Antropov (leg) were out for the Leafs although Sundin will join his teammates for practice this week and could return as early as Saturday. Winger Mariusz Czerkawski was once again a healthy scratch, as was tough guy Nathan Perrott and defenceman Andrew Wozniwski ... The Panthers were without Rostislav Olesz (sprained MCL) and former Leaf Joe Nieuwendyk (back spasms) while defencemen Joel Kwiatkowski and Alexander Karpovtsev were healthy scratches ... The Leafs next play Thursday night at Carolina...

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