TORONTO – A little killer instinct would have gone a long way in helping the Toronto Maple Leafs earn just their second three-game win streak of the season.
Instead, the Leafs turned in a sloppy third period against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, negating any possibility for the modest achievement. Toronto coach Ron Wilson thought some of his players got too greedy in pursuit of victory.
“I think we were controlling the game and the simple way to put it is we had guys who started to cheat to the offensive side of things,” said Wilson, whose team lost 4-3 to the Panthers on Bryan McCabe’s overtime winner after Cory Stillman tied the contest on a 6-on-4 situation with just 53 seconds remaining in the third period.
“Instead of keeping it simple there were drop passes, trying to make plays through people and eventually it led to the way we started the third period – just out for a public skate, turnovers, not getting the puck deep, then missing an assignment.
“We did enough things to win the game, but unfortunately we didn’t.”
Toronto actually outshot Florida 13-10 in the third and had an apparent goal called back when it was determined the puck didn’t entirely cross the line. That decision, coupled with some loose defensive play, allowed the Panthers to win a game Wilson thought his team could easily have had.
“We were going into the third period up 3-1, so I was pleased with that,” he said. “Let’s not forget the fact we’re in 11th place or whatever, we’re not going to be up 10-1. A 3-1 lead, that should be enough to get the job done, but we didn’t get it done.
“We let them hang around too long. We had opportunities to put them away and we didn’t.”
This wasn’t the first final-frame hiccup the Leafs have endured recently. Toronto also let a two-goal third-period lead slip versus the Pittsburgh Penguins last Saturday, but ultimately skated off with a 5-4 win.
When asked what his team can do to start preserving late leads, Niklas Hagman had a simple answer.
“Play better,” the Leafs right winger said. “It seems like lately we play good in the first and second, then we get a lead in the third and we can’t hold on to it.
“Today, the first two (periods) we played well. I think we played OK in the third, too. You’ve got to give credit to them, they played well and created the chances they needed. But for us, try not to hold back. Obviously it’s easier to say than do, but the last three games we’ve played pretty well so hopefully we can get back to winning.”
There’s a chance Justin Pogge could make his second start since the all-star break for Toronto against the Sabres. The 22-year-old goalie will make the short journey to Buffalo, while usual backup Curtis Joseph will not accompany the team on the trip.