Hawks' third period blitz puts Leafs away
5 goals in the final frame for Chicago
The last time the Maple Leafs had a two-goal advantage heading to the third period was earlier this week when they threw the game away to the Buffalo Sabres.
At least that was on the road.
Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre, Toronto nursed a 3-1 lead into the final frame before giving up five goals in what eventually turned into a 6-4 victory by the visiting Chicago Blackhawks.
And down came the boos from an increasingly frustrated Leaf Nation.
Playing eight of their first 10 on home ice was supposed to be a major advantage for Toronto, but it's amazing what a porous defence can do to the best-laid plans.
Now 3-4-2 overall, the Leafs are3-3-1 at the ACC during this run and must hope for a win on Tuesday against Atlanta to at least salvage some pride before heading out for six games in their next seven on the road.
"It's a bad circle right now we have to get out of," said young Leaf forward Alex Steen, "and the only way to get out of it is hard work.
"Even though we have the lead, we need to be able to play the puck and want the puck. We need to play a much, much better third period."
Chicago, off to a 5-3 start after being down for so many seasons, turned it on in the third, helped both by a two-man advantage to begin the frame and the puzzling predilection of the Leafs to defend like everyone's playing Sunday night shinny at the local outdoor rink.
Hot rookie Patrick Kane found Andrei Zyuzin in the slot during the five-on-three advantage for a shot that went under goaltender Andrew Raycroft and it was 3-2.
Just 30 seconds later, defenceman Duncan Keith was left uncovered by Darcy Tucker as the Blackhawk snuck in from the point, allowing him to put one by the suddenly beleaguered Raycroft and it was tied before the holders of the platinum tickets had made it back to their seats from their suites.
Less than seven minutes later, Robert Lang came in on what should have been a fairly safe rush, but his shot surprised Raycroft, went over his right shoulder, clanked off the far post and went in.
Sharp gets winner
The Hawks found the eventual winner at 11:47 courtesy of a deflection by Patrick Sharp off a Brent Sopel shot.
Chad Kilger brought the Leafs back to 5-4 with 2:55 to go on a nice give-and-go from Tucker, but it wasn't enough.
Tuomo Ruutu scored in the empty net to wrap things up.
Chicago coach Denis Savard is pleased with his team's start, but far from satisfied.
"We've still got lots of things to improve on, but our organization has done a great job acquiring the veteran guys we've got and the kids we drafted," he said. "We've got more to come, too."
Zyuzin has rough start
The Hawks' Zyuzin will be burning the tape of his first period after mistakes led to both Toronto goals in the opening 20 minutes.
Leading 1-0 and on the power play, Zyuzin fell while trying to take a pass across the point, helplessly watching Sundin pick up the puck and take off on a 150-foot breakaway that ended with a pretty backhand past Patrick Lalime to tie it up.
About 10 minutes later, Leaf winger Jason Blake charged down the right side, found Tomas Kaberle with a rink-wide pass and then took off for the net, Zyuzin right on him.
The Leafs defenceman threw the puck into the resulting crowd at the Hawks crease and it went in off Zyuzin's stick as he battled with Blake.
It was Kaberle's third of the year.
Chicago had opened the scoring at 4:13 on a power play as Jason Williams picked up a rebound following some excellent passing by super second-year Jonathan Toews andKane, burying the puck by Andrew Raycroft.
Toronto took the 2-1 lead to the dressing room.
In the middle frame, Sundin got his second on the night, again as a result of good effort by Blake.
This time the winger took the puck away from the Chicago defence and shoved it ahead for the captain who used the same move on Lalime — deke to the left and backhand over the goaltender's outstretched right pad — for a 3-1 Toronto lead.