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Bruins are still lost at finish

Maybe the Bruins could petition the National Hockey League to make one more change to the game -- shorten it to two periods.

That might be the only way to get Boston out of its alarming slump, which last night stretched to four games overall and three straight in regulation. The Bruins, who spent three days working on their deficiencies in hard, long practice sessions, were up to their old tricks in the third period again last night.

They took a 1-1 tie through two periods and transformed it -- presto! -- into a brutal 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the TD Banknorth Garden. The first two periods were much improved; the third, which has now become a habit, was a mess.

It drops their record against Northeast Division opponents to 1-7-1 and their overall record to 7-8-3-2.

Too many penalties, too many chances against, too many mistakes.

''Penalties kill you every time," said defenseman Nick Boynton. ''There are only so many guys who kill penalties on the team and you wear them down and that's it.

''The forwards who do that are the same forwards we expect to score goals at the other end. Obviously, for 40 minutes we played well and we just gave another game away."

The Bruins' start was much better than many others this season. They had energy and discipline. For the most part, they stayed out of the penalty box until the final period. And they outshot the Maple Leafs, 15-5, in the first period.

On the scoreboard, though, they had nothing to show for it because they weren't able to dent goaltender Mikael Tellqvist.

Through 12:30 of action, the Bruins were up on shots, 9-2. But it was Toronto who struck first midway through the second period on a goal by center Nik Antropov at 11:18. It was the Leafs' ninth shot to 21 for Boston.

The Bruins responded with only 13 seconds remaining in the period, cashing in on a power play.

Defenseman Jiri Slegr had the puck deep in the left circle, on the outside edge. He saw forward Brad Isbister in front and fired a pass toward him. It glanced off Isbister's skate and beat Tellqvist to tie it at 1-1.

''It was our game from there," said Boynton. ''Any time you score a goal in the last minute of a period, that's huge momentum-wise, and we gave them the game. We're killing ourselves right now."

They certainly did in the third period as the collapse came -- again. The Maple Leafs scored their first of three goals at 8:08 on a goal by center Eric Lindros, for which the Bruins actually had a legitimate gripe. Left wing Chad Kilger continued to play with a broken stick, which is illegal, and wound up with an assist on Lindros's goal. Right wing Tie Domi, taking the puck from Kilger, backhanded a centering pass for Lindros. Lindros beat Andrew Raycroft between the left post and the goalie's right pad.

As has often been the case, the penalties kept coming -- the Maple Leafs got four of their seven power plays in the third period -- and the Bruins paid for it.

Left wing Sergei Samsonov was called for hooking at 9:11, giving the Maple Leafs -- the NHL's leading team on the man advantage -- their sixth power play of the night and they finally cashed in at 10:08.

Defenseman Tomas Kaberle, positioned at the left point, threw the puck down to the net and it hit Boynton and then ricocheted off the shin pad of center Mats Sundin and past Raycroft, who never had a chance.

''The finishes aren't there," said captain Joe Thornton, whose point-scoring streak ended at eight games. ''Until we buy into the system [coach Mike Sullivan] gives us [to stay out of the box], we're not going to win many games. We've been stressing whoever plays more disciplined is going to win the game and they were more disciplined than us."

The Leafs added another tally on the man advantage to close it out. At 14:33, forward Darcy Tucker took a perfect pass from Lindros and beat Raycroft from outside the right post.

''When it's 2-1, we might get a lucky break but when it goes 3-1 or 4-1, it's game over," said Raycroft, clearly frustrated. ''Most of us have been around long enough that we know if you don't win, something happens [in the way of changes]. We don't want that to happen but we have to go out and prove it on the ice."

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