Maple Leafs out of playoff race

 

After losing 6-2 to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, many proclaimed that the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season was over. Thursday night, it became official.

 
 
 
 

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BOSTON — After losing 6-2 to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, many proclaimed that the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season was over.

Thursday night, it became official.

The Leafs, who were defeated 4-2 by the Bruins at TD Banknorth Garden, have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs for the third straight season. Even if Toronto were to win its final four games, the highest the team could finish is ninth.

“It’s really disappointing,” said Leafs forward Nik Antropov. “We had battled hard for over months to keep this race going. But tonight wasn’t our night, I think. We made a couple of mistakes and one questionable call, I guess, on the second goal. But there’s nothing else you can say. It’s really frustrating.”

This is the first time in 80 years that a Toronto team has gone three consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance. The last time it happened was in 1927-28, a year after the team changed its name from the St. Patricks to the Maple Leafs.

“It’s always next year,” said Antropov. “But three years in a row, it’s getting on you. It’s getting on your nerves and stuff. It’s not a fun feeling, I’m telling you that.”

After enduring a five-game losing streak in January, the Leafs dropped to a season-low 15th-place in the Eastern Conference standings the next month.

But the team rebounded after five players refused to be moved at the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

Saving their best for last, the Leafs won eight games in March and headed into this week’s home-and-home series within striking distance of the Bruins for the final playoff spot. But, in the end, Toronto ran out of steam and lost both games.

“We battled hard, but too little too late,” said defenceman Bryan McCabe. “You can’t have a stretch where you lose five, six games in a row and then try to claw your way back.”

The Leafs headed into Thursday’s must-win game with their backs pressed firmly against the wall. And Toronto pulled out all the stops looking for a victory.

Mats Sundin returned to the lineup after missing five games with a slight tear in his groin muscle. Also back was Antropov, who had been out four games with a knee injury.

If Sundin was still hurting, the captain did not show it.

The 6-7 forward, who knocked 6-9 defenceman Zdeno Chara off the puck to set up a Toronto goal in the second period, took three shots and played more than 17 minutes. After the final buzzer sounded, Sundin remained on the ice and seemed to be arguing with the four officials.

Sundin, who did not speak to reporters after the game, could have been upset over a controversial Boston goal. Or the 37-year-old might have been simply frustrated with the way the season has gone in what could be his last as a Leaf.

Toronto put itself in a hole Thursday night by giving up a first-period goal to the defensively-sound Bruins. But Jiri Tlusty tied the game in the second period on a goal that Sundin and Antropov assisted on.

With the game tied, Phil Kessel scored a disputed goal at 5:47 in the second period that sunk the Leafs.

Kessel had snuck behind Toronto’s defence to receive a pass from Peter Schaefer. Staffan Kronwall, who believed the Boston forward was offside, raised his arm to the linesman and stopped skating.

“We don’t have much from the video,” said head coach Paul Maurice. “It looked like it was, but I can’t confirm it.”

About five minutes later, the Bruins added to the lead on a power-play goal by Glen Murray.

The Leafs made the score 3-2 when defenceman Pavel Kubina scored a power play goal at 15:01. But the Bruins promptly regained a two-goal cushion 25 seconds later on Schaefer’s ninth of the season.

mtraikos@nationalpost.com
 
 
 
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