Make it 7 in a row, but it wasn't as bad as the score
looks. The Leafs scored first which was a positive sign. With Sundin at the right point on the powerplay, Steen roofed one from in close to take the early lead. The penalty kill looked dangerous, as all three forward pairings of Kilger and Wilm, Antro and Poni, and Allison and Stajan cleared the zone, generated chances at the other end and even drew some calls. I even wondered if Kaberle had been watching game tape of Lubomir Visnovsky as he was joining the rush and shooting the puck with abandon, which for Tomas totalled a season-high 6 SOG.
Everything the Leafs were doing pointed towards them keeping their lead, but a puck thrown out of the corner re-directed off Allison's skate, who was all alone in the crease with Belfour, and into the net. Unlucky break, right? Like a bad omen, the Eagle seemed to snap under misfortune's weight. Shortly thereafter, Wozniewski, who otherwise had an excellent game despite his minus 4, fell victim to a lack of luck as a seemingly harmless shot off the wing by Derek Roy richoted off Andy's stick and the outside of his skate, sending the puck just inside the near post and handcuffing a surprised Belfour. Less than a minute later Eddie took a minor for frustration. So at the end of period one the Leafs, who very easily could have led 0-1, were down 2-1.
After two quick goals early in the second Quinn paced and pondered over the decision to pull Eddie, but Belfour made the decision much easier than it appeared. Belfour was not mentally prepared to continue and give his team a chance to comeback and win.
Steen scored another powerplay marker, again from Wellwood, again from in close and into the top of the net. Poni added another bringing the Leafs back within one, but the Sabres made it a two-goal game less than a minute later. The Leafs reined in the Sabres once again with the team's thirteenth short handed goal, a beautifully back-hand redirect over Ryan Miller's shoulder by Khavanov, making it 4-5.
The third fell apart quickly. First, a phantom call on Steen for tripping when the Buffalo player fell shooting the puck. 22 seconds later Kilger is called for an obvious but unintentional high-stick. Cue Mr.Clutch. On a 4-on-3, Drury launches a rocket to make it 4-6. Cue Mr.Ed. Ken Klee is called for another slow-footed hooking penalty. Vanek deposits the trash in the bin. 4-7. McKee makes is 4-8 while short-handed and with Tellqvist on the bench.
The home crowd was booing in the final few minutes as Buffalo went into their prevent shell defense, but I thought the negativity was uncalled for. If not for two early bad bounces and the ensuing mental...lapse of Eddie, the Leafs would have been in a position to build on their lead in the first period. Several facets of their game were markedly improved, namely the powerplay, the forecheck, the clear, creating turn-overs in the neutral zone, finishing checks, and clearing rebounds. The previous five losses were much worse, and these last two have been building blocks. I know its not the best time of the year to be taking baby steps, but at least the team is improving their play and the remaining schedule provides plenty of opportunity to gain ground in the standings.