The Leafs put in a hard-fought effort against the Hurricanes on Tuesday night but were unable to come back against Carolina, falling 4-1 in the second half of a back-to-back.
LEAFS HAVE FIRST GOAL OVERTURNED; CANES STRIKE BEFORE FIRST INTERMISSION TO CARRY LEAD INTO SECOND
Playing in the second game in as many nights, the Leafs were looking to win their second straight game. And it looked as if Toronto got out on the right foot late in the first period against the Hurricanes when centre Auston Matthews made a phenomenal cross-ice pass to winger William Nylander, who fired it past Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek. However, the Canes challenged the goal for being offside, and the officials ruled in Carolina's favour, disallowing it and keeping the score 0-0.
And unfortunately for the lively crowd at Scotiabank Arena, the Canes scored before the first period ended to take a 1-0 lead into the middle frame. The visitors outshot Toronto 10-2 in the period, and the Leafs had a number of issues trying to establish some offensive structure. In addition, Carolina used its speed and skill to match and beat the Buds to loose pucks, and Toronto wasn't able to capitalize on either of its first period power plays, so the Leafs had work to do in the second.
HURRICANES BOOST LEAD EARLY IN SECOND, BUT TAVARES CUTS LEAD IN HALF VIA POWER PLAY GOAL
The Leafs improved their shot count in the second, but Carolina struck for its second goal of the night at 2:13 when blueliner Dougie Hamilton scored on the power play. Toronto showed resilience after that, pressuring the Canes into taking their third minor penalty of the night - and centre John Tavares made them pay, knocking his own rebound into Carolina's net with 9:05 left in the period:
Video: CAR@TOR: Tavares knocks in own rebound for PPG
Tavares' goal was his team-leading 47th of the season, and it put wind back in the Leafs' sails for the remainder of the frame: Toronto had 12 shots in the second, while Carolina had 13. But the Buds nearly tied it a number of times near the end of the period, and looked hungry to even the score as soon as the second intermission ended.
LEAFS CONTINUE PRESSURING CAROLINA IN THIRD, BUT CANES GET THIRD GOAL FROM STAAL TO LOCK UP WIN
Toronto outshot the Canes 7-4 through the first half of the third period, and, as they did in the second period, the Leafs came close to evening the score on multiple occasions. But the Hurricanes - who are fighting tooth-and-nail to lock up one of the wild card playoff berths - responded at the 9:36 mark of the third when centre Jordan Staal beat Leafs goalie Garret Sparks to restore Carolina's two-goal lead. The Canes added an empty-net goal with 47.2 seconds left, as Mrazek and the Hurricanes held off the Leafs' push to earn a road win.
The Leafs have a break Wednesday, but return to Scotiabank Arena Thursday night to host the Tampa Bay Lightning in the final home game of the season. They already know that the Boston Bruins await them in the first round of the playoffs, but Leafs head coach Mike Babcock will no doubt want to use his final two regular-season games (including Toronto's last game of the year, in Montreal on Saturday) to prepare his players for what promises to be a significant battle.