TORONTO — Another season is slipping away from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Chants of “Fire Wilson!” echoed through Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night as the Florida Panthers put the finishing touches on a 5-3 win over the sinking Maple Leafs, an all-too-familiar outcome for frustrated fans in Toronto. It was the ninth loss in 10 games for a team general manager Brian Burke decided against tinkering with ahead of Monday’s trade deadline.
Even coach Ron Wilson couldn’t blame the fans for calling for his job.
“It’s frustrating, but understandable,” he said. “We didn’t do anything at the trade deadline and we came out tentative to say the least. We talked ad nauseum to the team about the (last) 20 games and finding our focus and we weren’t ready to start the game.”
That was painfully evident with the score 1-0 just 13 seconds in. Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn let the puck slip off his stick right after the opening faceoff — “I messed up there pretty bad,” he said later — before Marcel Goc one-timed a shot past James Reimer.
The hole got bigger two minutes later when Mike Santorelli finished off a 2-on-1 and put the Leafs behind 2-0 for the fifth straight game.
“We’re embarrassed to go out there and play like that in front of our home fans,” said Schenn.
Toronto owns the NHL’s second-longest playoff drought at seven years — behind only the Panthers — and Florida is currently in position to end its run of futility by leading the Southeast Division. There was no disguising the importance of Tuesday’s game for either franchise and the visitors earned full marks for the victory.
Santorelli finished with two goals while Goc, Jason Garrison and Stephen Weiss each added one for Florida. Jose Theodore finished with 28 saves.
“Look at how close the standings are, every point is so important,” said Santorelli. “This was a big win for us.”
Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin and Joffrey Lupul replied for the Maple Leafs, who sit just four points out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference despite going 1-8-1 since Feb. 7.