Feb 09, 2007 04:30 AM
NASHVILLE–Penalties killed the Leafs’ five-game winning streak here last night.
But judging from Mats Sundin’s assessment of the Leafs’ parade to the sin bin, the confidence the club gained from a highly successful road trip is very much alive.
Sundin was downright snarly, a reflection of the frustration from a 4-2 loss to Nashville in which the Leafs – especially Sundin and linemates Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky – dominated the Western Conference’s top club.
“(Expletive) terrible call, they (the penalty calls) were terrible all night,” Sundin said after the loss, the Leafs’ first after a season-high five straight wins.
Sundin and his towering linemates clearly were the best unit on the ice last night, but the Leafs got a solid all-round team effort.
The Leafs are playing their best hockey of the season, and it showed when they outshot Nashville 14-5 in the first period, and 32-28 overall.
Toronto appeared poised to make it six wins in a row, but five penalties in the second period and five more in the third (13 overall) handed the edge to the Predators.
Nashville, after a first-period goal by David Legwand, bagged a 3-1 lead on power-play goals by Steve Sullivan in the second and J.P. Dumont in the third.
Ponikarovsky, off a nice feed from Sundin, and Chad Kilger had the Leaf goals while Vern Fiddler scored into an empty net in the dying seconds for Nashville’s other goal.
Especially galling for the Leafs was that Sullivan’s goal came with the Predators on a 5-on-3 power play, with Sundin and Tomas Kaberle both in the box.
“That’s it, nothing else to say about the game. … We spent too much time in the penalty box,” Leafs coach Paul Maurice said.
Sundin was furious with the on-ice officials, who tagged him with a roughing call after an exchange with Scottie Upshall.
The Leafs captain got slammed into the boards after a whistle. Sundin raced after the Predators winger and glove-punched him in the face.
“He hit me after the whistle, that’s how it started,” a clearly agitated Sundin said.
Sundin and the rest of the Leafs, though frustrated with the penalty calls, realized their lack of discipline essentially cost them a chance at some valuable points. They now face Pittsburgh and the Islanders at home, a double-shot of their closest rivals in the very tight Eastern Conference playoff race.
“I thought we played a pretty good game, we were the better team five-on-five,” Sundin said.
“We didn’t get power-play goals the way we got them when we needed them (during the streak). … They scored on their power-play chances and that was the difference in the game,” Sundin said.
“It’s frustrating,” Kilger said.
“I thought we played a pretty hard game, but we ended up in the box too many times. They have a lot of little, shifty guys who are pretty confident with the puck. I guess we had a couple of sticks too many on them,” Kilger added.
The Leafs got a scare when Upshall collided at mid-ice with Alex Steen on a dangerous-looking hit that was only inches from being knee-on-knee.
“I feel fine, we’ll see how it feels (today), but right now I’m okay,” said Steen, who limped off the ice, but returned for the third period.
Steen was favouring his left leg, but had improved considerably after the game.
“I think luckily I lifted my leg at the right time, but it was close (to knee on knee),” Steen said.
John Pohl was a last-minute scratch after developing back spasms about an hour before game time. Neither Pohl nor Steen are expected to miss tomorrow’s showdown with Pittsburgh.
“I’ll be okay,” Pohl said. “It just tightened up, it felt like I got shot.”