Had they found a way to win, it would likely have been one of the Leafs' better victories on the year.
Even if there aren't all that many to choose from.
As it was, however, Toronto blew a 3-1 lead with less than 13 minutes left in the third period, allowing the Tampa Bay Lightning's considerable offensive talent to break through with three unanswered goals and skate away with a 4-3 overtime win.
"It's tough to handle right now and it feels pretty brutal," said Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn, the main goat on Simon Gagne's winning goal after turning over the puck with three Toronto players deep in Tampa's zone. "I don't think it's any excuse being a young player. It's just a stupid mistake."
Toronto coach Ron Wilson, meanwhile, was more critical of his veterans than Schenn after the game, choosing to focus on blown coverages in regulation time rather than the costly breakdown in overtime.
"We did a lot of things really well, but we had some really missed assignments and a couple of mental mistakes from veteran players that you wouldn't expect at key moments," Wilson said. "The second goal, the defence had no idea that Marty St. Louis is standing behind them. That's a mental mistake.
"We were kind of matching defence pairs against their top line obviously, the most dangerous line they have, and we forgot they were on the ice. Inexcusable at that point."
It was a thinly veiled reference to the Leafs pairing of Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek, who had 25 and 20 minutes of ice time, including almost all of Steve Stamkos's even strength minutes. For the most part, they held their own and limited the NHL's leading goal scorer, but a poor read by Komisarek on St. Louis's first goal, when he was left alone in front of Jonas Gustavsson, proved a turning point as it allowed the Lightning to sneak back into the game.
Wilson was also critical of the Leafs icing the puck with only 12 seconds remaining in the third, a play that setup St. Louis's tying goal with only 8.7 seconds left after Tampa was able to get the puck off the faceoff and quickly back to the point.
"We got wandering around," Wilson said. "We lost the faceoff and they made a good play, but we didn't have two defencemen (Beauchemin and Schenn) near the front of the net to block the shot and it ends up in."
Wilson added that he didn't mind that Schenn jumped into the play in overtime.
"He made a bad pass," Wilson said. "I wish Luke had shot the puck in that situation than go to a backhand pass. Backhand passes, you telegraph them and the defenceman read the play and stepped up and, you know, off on a 2-on-1 they go."
With the loss, Toronto falls to 4-11-4 in its last 19 games, a stretch that has seen them drop into the Eastern Conference basement after a four-game winning streak to start the year. With Gustavsson playing well, including on this night in making 35 stops, scoring goals has been a huge issue, even with both Nikolai Kulemin and Kris Versteeg heating up of late.
There were other positives, too, with Tyler Bozak playing perhaps his best game of the season, drawing the assignment against Tampa's top line and performing fairly well given the circumstances. Minor league call-up Joey Crabb, meanwhile, earned positive reviews in his first game as a Leaf, as he went to the net, at even strength and on the power play, making an impression in 15 minutes of ice time on a line with Mikhail Grabovski and Kulemin.
The most disappointing trio was, again, Phil Kessel's line, as he and Nazem Kadri didn't have a night to remember. Kessel has taken to trying to make far too many 1-on-1 plays, something Wilson criticized while praising his other two lines.
"They've got to learn to support the puck," Wilson said of Kessel and Kadri. "We had two [good lines] Bozie's line, they had great puck support all night long and had some great shifts and the Grabovski line always was a threat offensively because you always saw three people near the puck.
"The Kadri line was three guys in three lanes and Clarke MacArthur was dumping pucks in and going and getting the puck. We need the other two guys to support the puck. Be in a support position."
Leafs centre Tim Brent, who played sparingly on the fourth line, summed up the game well.
"It's a heart breaker, you know?" he said. "They score with nine seconds left and then pretty quick in overtime they bury another one. We had them 3-1 and you need to be able to bury teams or at least make it real hard on them to come back.
"I think we turned pucks over more than the rest of the game in the third period when it counted and that's a team loaded with offensive skill. So you start turning pucks over, they start feeling good about themselves, start getting pucks to the net and that's when trouble happens.
"If you let up for one, two, four, six minutes, they're going to burn you. That's what I think happened."
Brent added that this loss was particularly hard to take in light of another strong performance from Gustavsson, whose record fell to 3-6-2 despite a .915 save percentage that is well above what J-S Giguere posted before getting hurt. Gustavsson is now 3-0-2 when Toronto scores more than one goal.
"He's been playing so well for us that we'd love to just get him some wins because he deserves them," Brent said. "Unfortunately again tonight, it definitely wasn't his fault, we kind of let it slip away. Unfortunately he and the team gets the loss in the standings."