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Hockeytown was no place for Leafs to end skid; next up Tampa on Tuesday

"We work hard, give it all at practice, it seems like everything is coming together, the game comes and we can't seem to get past the mental part of it right now," said star Leafs winger Darcy Tucker. "We need to find a way to do that."

Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin says there's lots of hockey left in the season and he's confident his team will turn it around, but he didn't sugar-coat the cold, hard truth.

"Right now we're a fragile group," Sundin said. "We're not scoring and not creating enough chances. We're taking penalties and doing all the things that make you lose hockey games."

Hockeytown was no place to end their season-long funk Saturday night, the Leafs waxed 5-1 by the Detroit Red Wings to extend their winless streak to seven games (0-6-1). They've won only twice in their last dozen (2-8-2).

But rock bottom it was not, said head coach Paul Maurice.

"No, I thought the other night was," Maurice said, referring to Thursday's 4-1 loss at Boston.

Maurice insists that Saturday' game, despite the score, gave him some hope, beginning with what he believed was a strong game from defenceman Pavel Kubina.

"Kubina, that's the player that we signed," said Maurice. "I liked Chad Kilger's game, I liked the captain blocking shots. Tomas (Kaberle) was vocal on the bench. ...

"There was some competitiveness."

But once again there were too many passengers, although Maurice wouldn't single them out.

"I'm not going to throw anybody under the bus," he said. "I'll make my points directly to them, they don't have to read it in the paper or turn on the TV to find out who I'm not happy with."

A loss Tuesday night against the Lightning and the Maple Leafs will find themselves under .500 for the first time since an opening-night loss to Ottawa.

"We have a huge home game on Tuesday," said Sundin. "We have time to turn this around but we all have to be better than we are."

Just three weeks ago the Leafs were six games over .500 and sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference. Now they're 10th.

"We're all down, any time you lose a game you're down and any time you're in a slump like we are, you wonder what's going on," said Sundin. "At the same time you don't have time to feel sorry for yourself or bang your heads. You don't have time to think you're not good enough because if you do, you're not going to win a lot of games for the rest of the year.

"There's a lot of hockey to be played and we have to get that mindset back that we had three weeks ago that if we play like we can we'll win games."

Veteran centre Michael Peca said the turnaround won't happen in one game.

"The point the veteran guys are trying to get across, when you go through something like this, you're not going to get out it the first game you play where you like the things you did," he said. "We finished checks (against Detroit), we skated hard, we competed hard, but you're not always going to get the results right away.

"It's not going to be a 4-1 or 5-0 type victory that gets us out of this. It's going to be a character-type win where we really gut it out for 60 minutes and really turn the corner morally and physically."

But the longer the slump goes, the more frustrated the Leafs are getting. That was evident Saturday, the Leafs taking 14 penalties. They lost their cool and then lost the game.

"Obviously you give up five power-play goals, you've been in the box too much," said Peca.

The referees aren't to blame, the Leafs are. And they'll have to figure this out on their own.

"We can't feel sorry for ourselves," and goalie Andrew Raycroft, pulled after giving up four goals in two periods Saturday. "No one in this country will feel sorry for us. ...

"We know we have the team in here," he added. "A few weeks ago everything was great. We just have to get back to what we were doing ... One of these games we're going to come out and look like the '80s Oilers."



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