TORONTO - The first two weeks of December gave Toronto Maple Leafs fans hope for the playoffs, but the last two have the team battling to keep those hopes alive.
Losers of three straight, the Leafs managed to earn a point by dropping 3-2 in overtime to the visiting Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, but fell even further behind in the Eastern Conference playoff race as the four teams in front of them all won.
"All games are going to be big tests from here on in," said Leafs defenceman Ian White, who scored his seventh goal of the season against Montreal. "We're a desperate hockey club."
The Leafs, who are 1-3-2 in their past six outings and 13-17-9 on the season, sit in 14th place in the East with 35 points, 10 ahead of the league-worst Carolina Hurricanes.
"At this stage, we've got to pick up these wins," White said. "We can't give away points like that."
The Leafs spotted Montreal a 2-0 lead before the game was five minutes old, but battled back to tie it at 2-2 early in the third period - only to see Montreal winger Andrei Kostitsyn snap a wrist shot past Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson 34 seconds into overtime.
Toronto is 1-9 in extra time this season, including 0-7 in overtime.
"Maybe if we would win one in overtime, we would have more confidence (in games that go beyond regulation time)," said Gustavsson, who made 20 saves. "Unfortunately, it hasn't happened yet, but hopefully it will."
It doesn't get any easier for Toronto as the Leafs travel to Pittsburgh on Sunday. After that, Toronto heads west for games against the Flames on Wednesday and the Oilers on Saturday.
"We've got to win some games and climb back into this thing," said Leafs winger Jason Blake, whose eighth goal of the season tied the game at 2-2 at 2:41 of the third period. "We've got another tough one in Pittsburgh tomorrow (Sunday) night."
While the Leafs outshot their opponent for a sixth consecutive game, they went 0-for-4 on the power play against Montreal and have failed to score on the man advantage in their past five contests (0-for-13). Toronto has gone just 4-for-45 on the power play in its past 15 games.
Meanwhile, leading goal scorer Niklas Hagman (16 goals) has just one goal in his past seven games, and Phil Kessel hasn't found the back of the net in five consecutive games.
"We can't keep giving away points like that," said Kessel, who had a great scoring chance in the dying seconds against Montreal but shot the puck wide.
"It was a gimme ... I missed it. I've got to bury that. What can I say?"