TORONTO - A missed opportunity to beat a slumping rival and to move into a playoff spot left the Toronto Maple Leafs looking for answers.
The Leafs fell 3-1 to the Montreal Canadiens in a playoff-like atmosphere Saturday. The loss meant Toronto remained outside the playoff picture in ninth place.
"It's disappointing that we didn't win it," said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. "We know it's a big one. We talked a lot about how big this game was. We're definitely disappointed with the outcome."
Montreal came into Toronto following a 5-4 loss to Pittsburgh on Friday, but pulled away from the Leafs after both teams entered the third period tied 1-1.
"We started well and really took the pace to them," Phaneuf said. "I thought as the game went on, it just became a game of who's going to make a mistake first."
The Leafs made that mistake after a breakdown in their own zone led to the game-winning goal on screen shot from the point by Raphael Diaz. Lars Eller added an insurance goal later in the period for a 3-1 win.
"In the third period they broke us," Phaneuf said. "We talked about not wanting to break. It's a 1-1 game going into the third, and there's going to be lots of tie games, one-goal games, going into the third down the stretch.
"Tonight we broke, and they came a little bit harder."
The Leafs came out flying to start the third period, but a lengthy delay to replace a sheet of cracked glass took the wind of their sails.
"It's almost like that delay put us half to sleep," said Toronto head coach Ron Wilson. "I thought we started the period pretty well. We had that 10-minute delay and the next shift we ended up getting scored on."
Toronto plays a home-and-home series with the New York Islanders before the all-star break, and every game until the end of the regular season looks to be pressure-packed in the team's race for a playoff spot.
"We're going to be playing a lot of those kinds of games from here on out ??? playoff style hockey, real tight," said Matthew Lombardi, who scored the Leafs only goal on a breakaway late in the first period. "We got to win those games. It's disappointing."