RALEIGH – A late push came to a halt rather quickly.
First Cody Franson
jumped. He was followed by John-Michael Liles
. Next thing the Leafs knew, Eric Staal
was closing in on Ben Scrivens
with a breakaway, the rebound deposited by Toronto native Jeff Skinner
, halting what concluded as a 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes on Sunday night.
"I didn't see him, he didn't me and we're both trying to create offence," said Liles, who was paired with Franson for just the second game this season. "It's kind of one of those crazy things. It ended up resulting in a goal against. It's something we'll learn from."
Sluggish for the opening forty minutes and down a pair of goals, the Leafs found some pop in the third, backed by a pair of goals from Phil Kessel
Kessel cut the gap to 2-1 early in the final frame with his 15th of the season on a power play, before Tim Connolly
missed a golden opportunity in tight on Cam Ward
to tie things moments later. Still pushing to even the score, Liles and Franson both jumped into the play in the offensive zone and with Nikolai Kulemin
unable to gain control of a rolling puck inside the blue line, Staal sprung loose, ultimately capped by Skinner for the game-winner.
"I don't think we came out nearly as well as we needed to," said Liles of a start which saw the Leafs get outshot 29-12 in the first two periods. "Credit goes to them, they played well. I thought we found our legs in the third, but for the first two [periods] we were definitely back on our heels and obviously ended up costing us a bit."
Playing their third game in four nights and second in less than twenty-four hours, the Leafs might've benefited from an ugly brand of road hockey, compounded by short shifts and simple offence. Instead they muddled things offensively in the first (only five shots), took a slew of penalties in the second (four in all) and were finally undone in the third. Only the efforts of Scrivens - 38 saves - kept the game close for a late comeback.
Injury-ravaged with seven regulars out of the lineup, the Leafs were fresh off a 7-1 Saturday night thrashing of the Capitals at home, perhaps missing some jump early on with the 5pm et start time.
"There's no excuse," said Kessel, who extended his NHL goal and points lead with the two-goal effort. "We needed a little better effort tonight. Came close, but we've got to play all periods."
"I don't think we're going to sit here and use rest as an excuse," added Dion Phaneuf
. "We had lots of time throughout the day to rest. It's disappointing."
The Hurricanes had lost seven of eight and eleven of fourteen heading into the game, picking up a much-needed victory. The Leafs meanwhile, have dropped six of the last eight, continuing a four-game road trip in Tampa on Tuesday.
Stats To Consider: With 16 goals, Kessel is now four clear of James Neal
and Milan Michalek
for first in the NHL, also up three on Claude Giroux
for the points lead. The 24-year-old ranks 11th in the NHL in shooting percentage (21.9%), well above his career-high of 15.5%. Clarke MacArthur
actually ranks first at 27.6%...David Steckel
finished 5-16 in the faceoff circle (31%) on Sunday, this after a 44% showing on Saturday. He still ranks second in the NHL (59.6%) behind Hawks captain Jonathan Toews
…The Leafs as a team were just 35% on faceoffs…Connolly had two assists in defeat, giving him four points in two games since a four-game absence. The 30-year-old played a season-high 20:55…Kulemin's goal drought extended to 14 games in the loss…Special teams continued to move in the right direction for the Leafs. The power-play added a goal on two opportunities, 8-15 in the last five games (53%). The penalty-kill meanwhile, stopped four of five chances, 87% over the last nine games.