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article imageLeafs lose 8th consecutive in regulation: longest skid since 1985 Special

By Dave Pitman     Mar 29, 2014 in Sports
Toronto - With desperation lingering in the atmosphere at the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Maple Leafs failed to keep up with the Detroit Red Wings, dropping their 8th consecutive game while seeing their playoff hopes all but vanish before them in a 4-2 loss.
"It should be a lot of fun here tonight. They need to win. We need to win. It’s just that simple." said Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock during pre-game warmups.
Both the Leafs and Red Wings were deadlocked at 80 points in the East, the pair of them looking to claw their way back into post-season contention. The season series even at 1-1-1, there was much more than bragging rights on the line - The winning team would take the remaining wildcard spot, at least for now.
Just re-called from the Marlies, Jerry D'Amigo slotted into the fourth line replacing Colton Orr. Jonathan Bernier would get the start, the first time in his career he would start a back-to-back in different cities. Jimmy Howard would counter on the other end for the Red Wings.
Riddled with injury, the Red Wings have had to bring up various players of their own from last years AHL Calder cup winning farm team, The Grand Rapids Griffins, including Gustav Nyquist who has been stellar since arriving. Nyquist has been on fire for the Redwings lately, riding a 7 point streak. He would extend it to 8 in the win, scoring 10 goals and 2 assists in that stretch.
The Maple Leafs started strong - something they haven't made a habit of doing this season. Seven minutes into the game as the first TV timeout was called, the Leafs were out-shooting the Red Wings 7-1 and controlling the puck. Their efforts would be rewarded as just past the midway point, Cody Franson blasted a shot from the blue line that would find a hole in the defence and beat Howard. The goal snapped a scoring drought for Franson as it was just his first in the last 18 games. The period came to a close with Toronto on-top 1-0, much to the approval of the fans in attendance, as Toronto had trailed 1-0 eight times in the last nine games. March 10th in Anaheim was the last time the Leafs had made it through the first period without allowing a goal from their opponent.
Things looked to be getting worse for Detroit to start the second period as Riley Sheahan took a holding penalty to allow Toronto's third ranked power play on the ice. The downfall of the Maple Leafs strong power play stats are that they had allowed 10 short handed goals, third most allowed in the NHL. Less than a minute into the power play, Darren Helm would take advantage of a Toronto misplay and make it 11 shorthanded goals on the year for Toronto. The goal seemed to take the air out of the Maple Leafs sails as just over a minute later, Gustav Nyquist potted his 26th of the year to put the Redwings up 2-1. Sensing the vulnerability, Detroit would continue to pour it on as Darren Helm scored his second of the night. The Leafs would get one back before the end of the period, however. Taken down on a tripping call, Morgan Reilly batted a perfect pass to Joffrey Lupul from his belly that Lupul would bury to bring the Leafs to within one. Lupul leads all Leafs players in career goals with 9 in 19 games played.
Detroit has taken some criticism this season for blowing third period leads. The Red Wings have given up the third most goals in the third period, and goaltender Jimmy Howard owns the NHL's worst third period save percentage. Knowing this, Toronto looked to push the pace again in the third period but in doing so left themselves thin defensively. Jonathan Bernier would have to make a save on a Red Wings breakaway but just moments later, Darren Helm broke loose once more, finishing off both the hat-trick and the Maple Leafs. Helm hadn't scored a goal since November 29th before the hat-trick in Toronto.
The loss was crucial, as Toronto's playoff chances have dwindled to 6.5% with Columbus coming away with a win elsewhere in the league. The last time the Maple Leafs lost eight straight games in regulation dates back to a stretch in October and November of 1985. The mood in the Maple Leafs dressing room reflected as such.
"Every mistake we make seems to be costing us right now and its frustrating…", a clearly irritated Cody Franson told media post game, "There's always room for improvement, but we just can't quite catch that break… I don't know."
Joffrey Lupul admits the losses have been getting to the guys in the room, but can't bring himself to say it's over for his club.
"It's tough to stay positive right now. We have to win the rest of our games and get help.. This was as close to do or die as it can get. Obviously we're not going to throw out hope until its mathematically set in stone but we pretty much had to have this game. Its tough to sit around and hope for other teams to keep losing."
Dion Phaneuf took heat from the Toronto media when he declined to speak with reporters after losing to St. Louis on Tuesday. Phaneuf would stick around today however, offering to media what they already knew; The team is not happy with their recent play.
"Its a very tough time. This loss is the most disappointing out of the 8. There's no hiding that… This is the toughest loss for sure…", Phaneuf said. as he tried to remain calm, "It's definitely a time that is very trying for everyone in our room. there's no denying that. Im not going to stand here and say that it isn't."
Toronto will need to win the remainder of their games to have hope in playoff hockey, but it would also require Detroit, Columbus and Washington to lose games as well. With the playoff picture becoming more and more a fantasy for Toronto, the conversation begins to shift from "what happened" to "how can this be avoided next year." The eighth straight loss marks the longest losing streak in regulation since 1985.
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