Another third-period collapse extended the troubling times for the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Leafs extended their season-worst losing string to five games after giving up five goals in the final 20 minutes for a 5-2 defeat to the visiting Atlanta Thrashers at the Air Canada Centre last night.
It was the Thrashers' sixth victory in seven starts, but the Leafs' second consecutive loss in which they allowed a two-goal lead in the third period to turn into a loss.
During their four previous losses, the Leafs had been outscored 10-2 in the third period, and that trend continued last night, thanks to the efforts of Atlanta forward Glen Metropolit, who was raised in Toronto's Regent Park area.
Metropolit spent the three previous seasons in Europe before he was signed last summer by the Thrashers. He was able to finally score on Atlanta's eighth power-play opportunity of the game by deflecting a shot from defenceman Greg deVries, and then he pounced on a poor clearing attempt from Toronto defenceman Hal Gill to set up Slava Kozlov.
Leafs blueliner Ian White was in the box for his third delay-of-game penalty in four periods for flipping the puck over the glass and into the seats.
Metropolit, 22, then set up Kozlov for the game-winner when he beat Toronto forward Alex Steen low and threw a perfect pass out front to an unmarked Kozlov with 8 minutes 33 seconds remaining in the third period. Metropolit tied a career best with his three-point game.
Kozlov also registered three points.
Marian Hossa, who scored three goals against the Leafs last week, added a late-game power-play goal on a breakaway, and Ilya Kovalchuk scored an empty-net goal.
The Leafs were undisciplined, giving the opposition 10 power-play opportunities.
The Leafs were five days removed from the 5-0 drubbing they absorbed at the hands of the Thrashers in Atlanta. Toronto yielded a whopping total of 13 odd-man rushes and three power-play goals. It was the first time this season the Leafs had been blanked by the opposition.
The Leafs were cautious in the early going, to prevent the high-flying Thrashers from getting their skating legs. Atlanta went into the game not only second in the Eastern Conference with a 17-7-4 record, but fifth in the league with an average of 3.36 goals scored a game.
Toronto has the seventh best offensive team, at 3.18 goals, and made the most of its limited opportunities with two first-period goals from Darcy Tucker and Michael Peca. Tucker, with his team-leading 17th of the season, scored his league-leading 12th power-play goal after slamming in a Jeff O'Neill goalmouth pass.
Peca was able to wrist a loose puck past Atlanta goaltender Johan Hedberg after Leafs second-year forward Steen carried the puck into the Thrashers' zone. The assist enabled Steen to pick up his first point after 11 games without one.
Toronto captain Mats Sundin had an excellent chance to score after Tucker's goal, but after being sprung by linemate Nik Antropov for a partial breakaway, Hedberg was in position to make a key stop.
Leafs coach Paul Maurice employed the Peca unit, which included wingers Bates Battaglia and John Pohl, against Hossa.
The Thrashers had five power-play opportunities in the second period, and that development had Maurice chirping from the Leafs' bench. But Atlanta came up empty because of the strong goaltending by Toronto's Andrew Raycroft and some efficient penalty killing from Peca, Chad Kilger, Steen and Matt Stajan. Raycroft made his best stop from in close on Thrashers forward Kozlov.
Atlanta outshot the Leafs 29-10 after 40 minutes, 17-3 in the second period as the Thrashers played half of the 20 minutes with the man advantage. Atlanta's big failing was its inability to raise the puck over Raycroft when in close.
Maurice decided to sit rookie defenceman Brendan Bell and young blueliner Carlo Colaiacovo, who recently ended a three-game conditioning stint with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.
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