Ed Belfour makes big saves, keeps his team in the game early and helps it to a big victory. The storyline was all too familiar for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday as they watched a pair of former teammates do what they do best. Belfour made 33 saves in his return to Toronto while Roberts had two goals as the Florida Panthers handed the Maple Leafs an ugly 7-3 loss.
"It's always exciting to come back," said Belfour, who spoke to reporters for the first time in more than six weeks. "You want to do your best against your former team. Tonight was our turn and we had a great game."
Rostislav Olesz, Ville Peltonen, Martin Gelinas, Joel Kwiatkowski and Nathan Horton also had goals for Florida (12-18-6).
Roberts was a force for the Panthers, forechecking relentlessly and giving the Maple Leafs defencemen fits. He was rewarded with the game's first star and gave a wave to the crowd while taking a quick post-game curtain call.
"I have nothing but good things to say about the city and the fans," said Roberts, who played here from 2000 until 2004. "It was nice that I got those cheers and it was nice to have big night here in Toronto along with Eddie."
The feeling couldn't have been any different down the hall in the locker-room where they used to dress.
Toronto entered the game on a three-game winning streak and was coming off a 9-2 pounding of the New York Rangers. They looked like a completely different team against the Panthers three nights later and were frustrated by that fact.
"We were just terrible tonight," said Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe. "We didn't show up, we didn't compete and they really took it to us. We were beaten at all ends of the rink."
Jeff O'Neill, Tomas Kaberle and Carlo Colaiacovo scored for the Maple Leafs (16-14-5).
Belfour spent three years in Toronto before having his contract bought out by the team over the summer.
He received a fairly warm welcome from the 19,444 in attendance at the ACC on Tuesday as they watched him play his first game in the city while wearing a Panthers uniform.
Belfour enjoyed his time here and admitted to being a little surprised GM John Ferguson didn't bring him back this season.
"Maybe a little bit," he said. "He's going to make his own way and I wasn't part of his plan. That's just part of the game and it's just accepted. You move on and you do your best."
Roberts was also passed over by the Leafs GM.
The 40-year-old expressed his desire to be traded back to Toronto last summer but a deal never got done. Ferguson might have been thinking about that while watching Roberts outwork every player wearing a Maple Leafs jersey on Tuesday night.
He's a big part of this Panthers team.
"He's having really a great season," said Florida coach and GM Jacques Martin. "Not only on the ice, but he's providing a lot of leadership for our hockey club."
This one started in Toronto's favour.
O'Neill beat Belfour with the Maple Leafs first shot of the game at 2:51 of the first period, when he skated out from the corner and slid the puck under the goalie's glove.
It didn't rattle the future Hall of Fame goaltender.
"He made a nice play," said Belfour.
Some in the seats behind Belfour sarcastically chanted his name but it was Eddie the Eagle who would get the next laugh. He made a diving stop on Leafs captain Mats Sundin and turned away Darcy Tucker's one-timer from the side of the goal during a Toronto power play.
Olesz soon tied it 1-1 at 16:00 of the first period after Leafs defencemen Hal Gill and Ian White were unable to clear a loose puck from in front of the goal. Roberts then tipped a shot by Andrew Raycroft and Peltonen made it 3-1 by stripping Gill of the puck and scoring with seven seconds left in the first period.
None of it would have been possible if not for Belfour.
"Eddie kept us in the game the first 15 minutes," said Panthers captain Olli Jokinen. "He was the biggest reason we were up 3-1. It could have been a totally different game."
Gill was again the victim 28 seconds into the second period, when Roberts intercepted a pass from the big defenceman and wired a hard shot over Raycroft's shoulder.
There was still two periods of hockey to play but the Leafs looked like a beaten team.
"It's one of those nights we wish we didn't have," said Toronto forward Michael Peca. "I don't think we were fully prepared to battle against this team - a team that plays hard every night."
Notes: Belfour hadn't spoken to the media since a 4-2 victory over the Maple Leafs on Nov. 2 . . . He won 93 games, lost 65 and tied 11 as a Maple Leaf . . . Toronto plays again at Chicago on Friday. The last time they did that was February 2003.