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MAPLE LEAFS 3, BRUINS 2

Sundin's late goal ruins Bruins' rally

TORONTO -- First they got mad, then they got even. But ultimately, the Bruins fell short.

Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin scored his second goal of the game with 6:44 left in regulation to lift Toronto to a 3-2 victory last night at the Air Canada Centre.

What remains confounding about this club is how it can know the stakes and still come out of the gate like Rip Van Winkle just waking from a nap. After falling behind 2-0, the Bruins -- sparked by some nasty fisticuffs -- staged a frantic comeback to tie it with two in the third but it was too little, too late.

They hung their goalie -- Andrew Raycroft -- out to dry for 40 minutes, allowing Toronto a 30-11 margin in shots. They've battled slow starts all season and this was arguably the most disturbing of all, given the game's importance.

"I thought the first period might have the been the worst period we've played in three months," said coach Mike Sullivan. "It just took us too long to get in the hockey game. That's the moral of the story."

Defenseman Nick Boynton said he can't understand the problem.

"We played horrible," he said. "There's no getting around that. [Raycroft] kept us in there. This team doesn't know how to play sometimes. We fight back and get a tie and we're giving up four on threes and five on threes all over the ice. We're not going anywhere in the playoffs playing like that. A tie game like that, we've got to be a lot better. [Raycroft] gave us a chance, we need these points, and we're just playing stupid."

The Maple Leafs got on the board at 2:32 of the opening period on Sundin's first goal. Sundin, who had eight shots in the period, beat Joe Thornton on a faceoff in the Boston end in the right circle. He won it back to defenseman Drake Berehowsky at the right point. Berehowsky teed up a slapper that Raycroft stopped but Sundin got to the rebound and fired it in. At 7:07 of the period, the Maple Leafs were outshooting the Bruins, 11-1.

Boston's fortunes got worse in the second and tempers flared as the Maple Leafs went up by a pair at 1:51.

Center Joe Nieuwendyk dished a pass to left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky in front. Ponikarovsky's shot appeared to glance off the skate of Boynton and past Raycroft to make it 2-0. The Bruins had as much trouble generating offense in the second as they did in the first. For the first 10 minutes of the second, the visitors didn't have a shot on goal and were being outshot, 27-7, 9-0 in the period.

The contest started heating up at 13:20 when Bryan McCabe drilled Thornton into the boards. McCabe got a two-minute minor.

"We're the Boston Bruins, you've got to remember that," Thornton said sarcastically. "They give only two minutes to anything. If I would've stayed down a little bit longer, maybe they would've but you're not going to stay down [if] you're not hurt."

The ensuing melee led to Boynton getting called for seven minutes in penalties, including five for fighting Berehowsky. He went to the dressing room, bleeding from a facial cut that required 10 stitches. At 16:01, Thornton, playing his first game without a cage (after 16 with it) to protect his cheekbone, squared off with McCabe.

With 51.1 seconds left in the period, Bruins center Travis Green dropped the gloves with former teammate Gary Roberts, playing his first game after missing eight because of a torn groin muscle.

Heading into the third, the Bruins were in a two-goal hole and were being outshot, 30-11, but they were about to come alive.

Marty Lapointe started it with a goal at the 17-second mark. Lapointe, one of the few Boston players who had any semblance of a good game in the first 40 minutes, potted his 12th of the season and second in three games. His first shot was blocked and the puck bounced behind the net and off the end boards. Lapointe got to it and tried to fling it in front but it caught the skate of goalie Ed Belfour and deflected into the net.

Thornton pulled the Bruins even at the six-minute mark. He took a backhand pass from defenseman Sean O'Donnell and took a shot from the right circle. Belfour made the save but Thornton buried the rebound.

But it was the other captain -- Sundin -- who decided it with a shot from the left circle that beat Raycroft between the pads.

"I didn't read it the way I wanted to," said Raycroft. "I gave him too much five-hole and he found it."

Although the Bruins took solace in their finish, they weren't kidding themselves about how it turned out.

"It would've been nice to get a point," said Raycroft, "but we probably deserved our fate."

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