TORONTO -- It was nothing new to see these Toronto Maple Leafs beaten. A 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings was their eighth straight in regulation. But Saturday night in the home locker room at Air Canada Centre, the Leafs looked defeated for the first time during this losing streak or this once-hopeful season that has quickly gone off the rails. "I cant describe it right now," winger Joffrey Lupul said. "This was as close to a do-or-die as you can get. But obviously were not going to throw out hope until its mathematically set in stone. But we pretty much had to have this game." Seven losses piled up and yet the Leafs still sounded like a team that had hope. Giving up huge leads in the standings to the Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals to fall into a four-way tie at 80 points was one thing. Squandering the most important game of this stretch so far to a fellow Eastern Conference wild-card competitor felt like the breaking point. "This loss is the most disappointing out of the eight. Theres no hiding that," captain Dion Phaneuf said. "We come tonight against a team that was battling for that same spot and they win this hockey game. This is the toughest loss for sure." Detroit (34-26-14) got a hat trick from Darren Helm and another from the NHLs hottest goal-scorer, Gustav Nyquist, to reach 82 points. "It was the first hat trick I ever had, which is pretty special," Helm said. "Big game to win, too. I was happy to win the game, first off, but the hat trick is a nice thing to take home." The Red Wings werent the only ones in the race to win Saturday night, as the Blue Jackets beat the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime to take over the top wild-card spot in the East at 82 points. Columbus leads Detroit because they have more regulation and overtime wins (33 to 29). With just six games remaining -- two less than each of the three teams theyre competing with for two spots -- the Leafs are fourth among those teams and know the difficult task in front of them. "Weve got to win the rest of our games and get help now, I think," said Lupul, who scored the Leafs second goal of the night late in the second period to give some life that evaporated in the third. "All we can control right now is winning the rest of our games, and were going to have to have every one, probably." Phaneuf didnt want to consider that daunting task. The defenceman whose miscues cost the Leafs in previous defeats didnt want to think too far ahead but also called this a "very trying" time for a group that was in second place in the Atlantic Division as recently as Mar. 16. This was the first time in franchise history that Toronto (36-32-8) went eight straight games without a point since 1996 and the first time it lost eight consecutive in regulation since 1985. "Its not like were playing bad hockey, its just one of those things where every mistake that we do make ends up (in our net)," said defenceman Cody Franson, who opened the scoring 10:57 into the first period. "Its the end of the season, everybodys clamping down and your little mistakes end up costing you. Plain and simple." Mistakes like a turnover by Phil Kessel on the power play early in the second that led to Helms first, a short-handed goal. Or like the puck taking a bad hop off Franson and right to Helm for his third. "It just isnt meant to be for us right now, and this is the tough ones," coach Randy Carlyle said. Asked what he figured the difference was in the loss, his third straight since returning from a groin injury, goaltender Jonathan Bernier (24 saves on 28 shots) said: "Odd-man rushes." Lupul agreed. "We gave up odd-man situations repeatedly for whatever reason," he said. "Its tough to say from the bench, thats something you notice when you watch the game again. But the try is there, just we didnt get the job done and we have to pay for that now." The Leafs have been paying since they last won a game, Mar. 13 at the Los Angeles Kings. Most importantly they havent been picking up valuable points with the games whittling down to the end of the regular season. On the other hand, Detroit has picked up 11 points and gone on an impressive run without star forward Pavel Datsyuk and captain Henrik Zetterberg. The injuries have piled up, but the Red Wings have gotten 21 goals in 26 games from Nyquist and continued solid performances from goalie Jimmy Howard (25 saves) to remain in the playoff race. "Weve been devastated this year, no question about it, but we found all these kids and were better for it going ahead, so thats a positive thing," coach Mike Babcock said. "Weve had a lot of fun doing it. Weve been in the grinder since day one, theres no question about it, but weve had a lot of fun doing it and weve got a big game against Tampa tomorrow." Every game down the stretch is big for the Leafs now. They return to Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night to face the Calgary Flames before hosting the Atlantic Division-champion Boston Bruins on Thursday and the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. They finish the season with three on the road: at the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators. But unless they manage to string together a home winning streak, those games will be too late. The task in front of them is to prevent doing even once more what theyve done eight consecutive times. As the Leafs seemed to realize Saturday night, they can no longer afford to lose. "Weve won six in a row in the season," Bernier said. "Obviously its hard to snap the long losing streak like that, but weve got to find a way. If not, then well be home very soon." NOTE -- Winger Phil Kessel took a pass from James van Riemsdyk off his right foot in the first period and laboured to the bench in pain. Kessel was seen limping after the game, but Carlyle did not have any information on his condition. ... Bernier started on back-to-back days for the first time this season and just the second time in his NHL career. The only previous time was March 5, 2013 with the Los Angeles Kings, when Bernier was pulled after giving up three goals on eight shots. ... Defenceman Paul Ranger and enforcer Colton Orr were scratched for the Leafs, who recalled forward Jerry DAmigo earlier in the day from the AHLs Toronto Marlies. ... The Red Wings were playing their 14th straight game without Datsyuk (knee) and 16th straight without Zetterberg (back). Theyve played 35 total without Datsyuk and 29 without Zetterberg. ... The game was broadcast live on CCTV in China. Jae Crowder Jersey
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