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Tough Third Does Leafs In

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Thrashers 0 0 5   5
Maple Leafs 2 0 0   2


December 5, 2006

TORONTO (CP) -- Glen Metropolit was the unlikely hero in his first NHL game in his home city in four years.

With Atlanta trailing 2-0 in the third period, Metropolit scored a goal, he set up the next two by Vyacheslav Kozlov, and the Thrashers pulled away for a stunning 5-2 win over the Maple Leafs.

"It was a dream come true,'' Metropolit said of his triumphant return from the hockey wilderness.

Mats and the Leafs couldn't contain the Thrashers.
(Graig Abel Photography)

He grew up in a Toronto housing project and didn't play minor hockey because his family couldn't afford it.

He defied the odds and made it to the NHL but, after 103 games in a limited role spread over five years and mostly with the Washington Capitals, he headed to Europe and played in Finland and Switzerland for three years.

Nobody expected to see him again in the big league. The NHL dropped him from its annual media guide. But he always hoped he could return, especially after the birth of a son, Max, while he was playing in Finland.

"I wanted my son to see me play an NHL game,'' he said. "That was my focus.''

At the age of 32, he's back. He was a healthy scratch when Atlanta visited at Halloween. This time, coach Bob Hartley gave him a chance to play on the first line with Marian Hossa and Kozlov and, boy, did he play.

"Every day over there (in Europe), I was trying to grind away at the weights and the shooting,'' he said. "The hard work is paying off now.

"The season is a marathon and not a sprint, obviously, but I'm feeling great out there and I've got confidence, and I'm starting to earn the confidence of the coach.''

He has 10 points in his last 10 games.

Toronto led on first-period goals by Darcy Tucker and Mike Peca. There was no scoring in the second. The Leafs were being outshot but, given the way Andrew Raycroft was tending goal and the fact that Toronto was 10-0-3 this season when leading after two periods, it would take an incredible collapse for the Leafs to lose this one.

That's exactly what happened. Too many penalties did them in. Metropolit's goal at 3:56 of the third was in Atlanta's eighth power-play chance. The floodgates opened as he then set up Kozlov for the tying and winning goals at 7:14 and 11:27. Marian Hossa scored on a breakaway at 14:21 on another power play, and Ilya Kovalchuk slid the puck into an empty net with 57 seconds remaining and just before boos chased the Leafs to their dressing room.

Atlanta won its fifth in a row, while Toronto lost its fifth consecutive game.

"`Metro was the difference,'' said Hartley. "It's nice to see.

"He's been working hard. I gave him a chance and he took advantage of it.''

Atlanta had a 29-10 shots advantage after two periods. Toronto actually outshot the Thrashers 9-8 in the third.

"We knew we had to get some traffic in front of Raycroft,'' said Metropolit. "He was playing pretty good, but we were getting some good chances and just had to keep at it _ go to the trenches and take the puck to the net.''

Atlanta was 2-for-10 and Toronto was 1-for-3 on power plays.

Hall Gill took three penalties and his partner Ian White took two consecutive penalties for lifting the puck into the stands. Metropolit started Atlanta's rally on the second errant clearing attempt.

"We knew that with all the penalties they took in the second period that those D men played some tough minutes for the Leafs,'' said Hartley. "We felt that just by keeping pressure on those guys we could maybe get a break or two.

"We got one on Raycroft and felt we could get him on his heels and keep going. We beat him with some good shots. It was a big period and a big win for us.''

Toronto coach Paul Maurice knew one thing for sure.

"We can't put that team on power plays 10 times in a game and expect to win,'' he said.

The Ottawa Senators moved ahead of Toronto into third place in the Northeast Division with a 4-2 win over the New York Islanders.

The Leafs play in Boston on Thursday and in Detroit on Saturday.

"The bottom line is that we need some points,'' said Raycroft.

Gill empathized with Raycroft after he was blitzed by the Thrashers in the third period.

"He made some huge saves for us,'' said Gill. "We let him down in the third.''

It was tough for the Leafs to get any rhythm going with all the penalties they were taking.

"Some guys were sitting (on the bench) the whole second period ... (and others) just killing, killing, killing (penalties),'' said Raycroft. "Bad loss.''

Peca was as disappointed as he's ever been after a blown lead.

"We're lacking quite a bit of a killer instinct,'' he said. "It seems we give up one goal and we're just waiting for the roof to blow off. I don't know if they had more energy or what (in the third period). The bottom line is that it's a disgrace on our side.''

Maurice has declined to call his team's losing streak a slump, but that's clearly what it is now.

"There's not a lot of confidence in the room right now,'' he said. "The work ethic has been good, but it has to be perfect the way we're handling the puck right now.

"We're not playing well enough to win right now.''

Notes: Atlanta outshot Toronto 37-19 ... Alex Steen hasn't scored in 23 games since netting his only goal of the season on Oct. 14 ... Bryan McCabe leads all defencemen in fan voting to decide the starting Eastern Conference lineup for the Jan. 24 all-star game in Dallas. McCabe had 245,976 votes as of Tuesday. Tomas Kaberle was sixth with 194,850. The Toronto forward with the most votes on his team is Mats Sundin with 78,574 for 14th place ... Alexei Ponikarovsky's plus-six is the best plus-minus rating among Leafs ... The average for Toronto players is a height of six-foot-two, weight of 206 and age of 28 . . . Come Dec. 20, it'll be three years since Wade Belak scored a goal.

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