Toronto (CP) - This isn't one of the losses that will sting for long.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had already put their most lopsided defeat of the season behind them only minutes after their Christmas break officially started. It probably helped that the team seemed to go on vacation a little earlier than scheduled.
Playing for the fourth time in six nights, the Maple Leafs simply didn't show much energy while getting hammered 8-2 by the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.
The poor performance didn't result in many long faces after the game, a sure sign that the weary Leafs were looking forward to two days of rest.
``We didn't have our legs, we didn't have our mind to be able to play a shutdown game,'' said coach Ron Wilson. ``Unfortunately, it got ugly.''
That certainly didn't sit well with the sellout crowd, which treated starting goalie Vesa Toskala to a mix of boos and sarcastic cheers while watching him surrender seven goals on 27 shots.
The frustration was misplaced.
There wasn't a player in blue and white who showed much interest in defensive zone coverage at all. Dallas was totally having its way, displaying as much speed as any visiting team has all season at Air Canada Centre and moving the puck with authority.
Toskala was pretty much helpless.
``He didn't have a chance on any of those goals,'' said Wilson. ``I don't think it was fair that the fans got on him, if that was their intention.
``(It was) shot, rebound, shot, rebound and then somebody would put it in the empty net. We weren't covering anybody.''
The Stars were certainly deserving of the outcome.
Rookie James Neal had his first career hat trick on a night when 15 different Dallas players found the scoresheet. That includes goalie Marty Turco, who had an assist to go with his 20 saves.
The 21-year-old Neal was raised in nearby Whitby and had several relatives and friends in attendance for his breakthrough game.
``Just being able to step out onto the ice was something special, and things were going in for me,'' he said. ``Everything I shot found a way in.''
Dallas has found itself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons this year but the negative momentum might be changing. The team is 6-3-1 since Sean Avery last appeared in a game and enters the Christmas break with victories in three of its last four outings.
Coach Dave Tippett knew this was a game the Stars had to have because Toronto was a tired team. Dallas spent two days in the city preparing for the game while the Maple Leafs arrived home early Tuesday morning from Atlanta.
``They obviously were a team that travelled late last night,'' said Tippett. ``We wanted to go out and jump on them early, get a lead, and we were able to do that.
``It's pretty hard to come back when you're a tired team.''
That strategy worked to perfection as the Stars built a 3-0 lead before the Maple Leafs even registered a shot on goal. It was fairly evident by then that it would be a long night for the home team.
Everything kind of spiralled out of control from there.
``It seems like we weren't ready at the start,'' said Kaberle. ``The Dallas team is pretty fast. They're just trapping in the neutral zone and seems like we weren't able to put the puck deep and give it to them.
``They did exactly what we would like to do lots of shots at the net, get the rebounds, get a one- or two-goal lead. It looked pretty easy afterwards for them.''
Steve Ott, Fabian Brunnstrom, Brad Richards, Krystofer Barch and Mike Ribeiro also had goals for the Stars (14-14-5).
The Maple Leafs coach was choosing to see the big picture. He was happy that the team reached Christmas with a .500 record although one could argue semantics with him about whether overtime and shootout losses should represent a break even point.
``Where we are right now, we're pleased with that,'' said Wilson. ``We're .500 at Christmastime. There's not a soul around who ever would have thought that.''
There was really no hint that there will be much fallout from the loss on any front. Even Toskala seemed understanding when asked how he felt about getting booed.
``Fans are paying good money to come watch us and we didn't play very well,'' he said.
After two full days off, the Maple Leafs return to action with a game in Long Island on Boxing Day. The team will fly down the morning of that game.
There was no indication that anyone was planning to spend their holiday break trying to figure out what went wrong against Dallas.
``It's already behind me,'' said Wilson.
Notes: Dallas played at Toronto for the first time since Dec. 10, 2005 ... Turco has a record of 48-13-4 against Canadian teams since 2002-03 ... The Stars and Leafs are both looking for their first short-handed goal this season ... Andre Deveaux earned his first NHL point with an assist on Toronto's second goal.
1 - 0 DAL
2 - 0 DAL