TORONTO – Things went so badly for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night that GM John Ferguson didn’t bother sticking around to watch the third period from his normal spot in the press box.
Coach Paul Maurice wasn’t as lucky.
The Maple Leafs took eight penalties in the first half of the game alone and fell behind the New York Rangers 5-0. They basically could have turned the lights out at that point as the Rangers went on to win 6-1.
“That’s a tough game to sit through when you’re getting beaten that bad that early,” said Maurice.
None of the 19,408 fans at Air Canada Centre will take issue with his point. Only a couple thousand people were left in the stands when the final buzzer sounded.
It’s the third time this season Toronto has been thoroughly embarrassed at home as both Carolina and Washington beat the Maple Leafs 7-1 here in October. After playing the last seven games on the road, this one might have been even tougher to take.
“It’s no fun doing that in front of your home crowd,” said Leafs forward Alexander Steen. “The Rangers came in and they handed it to us in front of our home fans.
“It’s not something that we enjoy for sure. I don’t know what else to say – it’s tough losing, especially this way.”
Jaromir Jagr lead the way for the Rangers with a goal and three assists. Petr Prucha, with two, Blair Betts, Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka also scored for New York (19-15-4).
Backup goaltender Steve Valiquette made 27 saves for his second win of the year. Both have come in this building.
“It was an outstanding game for us, probably our best effort of the year,” he said. “There’s something about coming to Toronto.”
Darcy Tucker broke Valiquette’s shutout bid at 8:20 of the third period with what turned out to be the lone goal for the Maple Leafs (15-16-8).
Toronto allowed five power-play goals during the game, which is more than it gave up during its entire seven-game road trip. The Maple Leafs were only scored on three times while a man down during that stretch.
“Tonight was obviously an awful hockey game for our team,” said Leafs captain Mats Sundin. “We went to the penalty box way too many times.”
Betts opened the scoring at 12:29, while the teams were playing at even strength. Raycroft was hugging the right post as Betts came out from behind the net, but the Rangers centre somehow squeezed a shot through him.
Soft goals like that one have plagued the Leafs goalie since he arrived in Toronto before last season.
“The first one sucked and then we didn’t recover from it,” said Raycroft.
Jagr made it 2-0 a little over three minutes later. He slid the puck into an empty net after Raycroft had come out of his crease to make a nice stop on a point shot. Jagr now has three goals in two games after being held scoreless in 10.
The game really opened up in the second period. Toronto was two men down for a total of three minutes 52 seconds during the frame and the Rangers had three power-play goals. Prucha converted a pass from Sean Avery at 3:58, Shanahan beat Raycroft with a one-timer at 7:54 and Straka snuck a point shot by him at 10:31.
That’s not how the Leafs had envisioned things happening when they were in the dressing room during the first intermission.
“We tried to go back out in the second and have a good couple first shifts,” said Tucker. “But we took some penalties and boom, they picked us apart on the power play.”
Maurice pulled Raycroft for Scott Clemmensen after the fifth goal and it was pretty clear at that point that the game was over.
The Rangers were already looking ahead to Sunday’s game against Montreal.
“At a certain point tonight, (we) started thinking about tomorrow night’s game and keeping shifts short and rolling the lines over and playing a safe, smart third period,” said Shanahan.
Prucha beat Clemmensen at 1:09 of the third period with yet another power-play goal to make it 6-0. He was parked at the side of the net and took a great cross-ice pass from Brandon Dubinsky.
Tucker scored at 8:20 after being sent in alone by Mark Bell and beating Valiquette to the glove side.
It was one of the few moments worthy of a cheer during a frustrating evening for the home fans. The Maple Leafs now have two days of practice before hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning on New Year’s Day.
Maurice refused to disclose what message he had for his team after the loss to the Rangers.
“There are some things you should just keep to yourself,” he said.
Notes: It was the sixth time the Maple Leafs have allowed five goals or more at home this season and 10th time overall … Clemmensen saw his first NHL action since April 8 when he was with New Jersey … Dubinsky had three assists for the Rangers … John Pohl, Jiri Tlusty and Anton Stralman were healthy scratches for the Maple Leafs … It was Avery’s first game at the ACC since having a scuffle with Tucker during the warmup on Nov. 10 … This was the final meeting of the regular season between the teams. Toronto took the series 2-1-1.