Marooned in an interminable slump, the Toronto Maple Leafs can do everything but win.
They outshot the Montreal Canadiens 46-30, outchanced them by a comparable ratio and still managed to lose their fourth game in a row albeit 4-3 in overtime
When they play well, they lose in overtime When they play poorly, they lose big.
Losing seems as certain as gravity, this is the endless wonder of a slump. This time the difference was on the special teams. The Habs clicked for two power play goals. The Leafs had none. Another night, it will be something else, a letdown in netminding, a rough night by a defensive pairing.
It took a goal by Mats Sundin in the final minute to get the game to overtime. The teams traded chances in the extra five minutes but neither team enjoyed anything better than what happened in regulation.
The Leafs got a credible game from goalie Vesa Toskala, who felt the team had turned the corner and was evolving into a more sound defensive unit.
“I think we’ve found how we’re going to play,” Toskala said. “If we continue with this type of way, we’re going to win a lot of hockey games this year.”
Most of the Leafs bit players, the Ian White, Hal Gill and Chad Kilger did more than earn their keep. Jason Blake had jump but that has been little consolation for the fact that he has only two goals and hasn’t scored in 17 games. He also missed his shootout chance.
Eager to inject more life at the top of his lineup, coach Paul Maurice plunked Mark Bell, still goalless over 10 games, onto the first line with Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov.
Maurice said the club started out well and kept it going.
“There was a great sense of urgency in the locker room all day,” he said. “There was a real good feeling, a real sense of purpose.”
Losing is a fog. There was no staggering, obvious defensive error. No one shot the puck into their own net.
The Leafs just lost, as they have been doing with only one break over the past 17 days.
The Leafs broke from the gate after a scoreless first. Darcy Tucker found a puck at his feet nearly three minutes into the second and swept a shot past Montreal goalie Carey Price.
The Canadiens tied two minutes later on Kovalev’s one-timer. It was Kovalev’s 11th goal of the year and it came on the first power play.
The Leafs reclaimed the lead when Chad Kilger charged through the defence and roofed a shot but Guillaume Latendresse pulled the Habs back even when he shoveled a shot past Toskala.
Kovalev notched his second goal, an easy one, on a Montreal power play with Toskala out of position early in the third. That looked to be enough until Mats Sundin pounced upon a loose puck with 17 seconds to tie the game 3-3.
The goal by the captain unleashed a torrent of emotion but Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn scored in overtime. Sundin hit, but Nik Antropov, Darcy Tucker and Jason Blake couldn’t beat Price.
There are no points awarded for moral victories, in this or any other league. There has been open speculation about the fate of GM John Ferguson and Maurice. The calls for action have not reached the hysterical yet. So far Carlton the Bear seems safe.
Meanwhile, the Leafs go back to work, searching for that elusive something.
“We got a point I guess,” said Gill. “We take something from it. I’m not sure there’s much to like in ending like that.”