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Former Leaf Nik Antropov struggles in return to Air Canada Centre

The Canadian Press
By:
The Hockey News
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Former Leaf Nik Antropov struggles in return to Air Canada Centre

The Canadian Press
By:

TORONTO - It wasn't the kind of reunion that Nik Antropov had anticipated.

The Atlanta Thrashers centre, who returned to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs for the first time since being dealt at the NHL trade deadline last season, didn't receive much of a welcome from his former club.

Then again, the same can be said for the entire Thrashers team.

Atlanta fell 5-2 to the host Leafs, thanks to a five-goal explosion in the second period by Toronto. Antropov, who has two goals and a team-leading 21 assists in 27 NHL games this season, was minus-2 and quickly assumed a large part of the blame for the defeat.

"Absolutely (disappointed) with my game tonight," said Antropov, who was drafted 10th overall by Toronto in 1998 and played for the Leafs from the start of the 1999-2000 season until March 4, 2009, when he was traded to the New York Rangers.

"It was the worst game I've played since coming to Atlanta. By the time I woke up, it was too late."

Thrashers coach John Anderson wasn't pleased with the loss, but he wasn't about to pin the blame on Antropov.

"When you get down 5-0 in one period, it's not just one player," Anderson said. "Toronto smelled blood (in the second period) and they turned it up."

It was a frustrating evening for Antropov, who played the first 509 games of his NHL career in Toronto's blue and white, scoring 125 goals and 291 points. The six-foot-six, 240-pounder, who skates on Atlanta's top line between all-star left-winger Ilya Kovalchuk and resurgent winger Maxim Afinogenov, was clearly downcast in a brief appearance with members of the Toronto media after the game.

"We didn't do what our coach told us to do," he said, "we didn't execute our game plan.

"They were the better team in the first two periods. I thought we played better in the third period, but by then it was too late."

Toronto dealt Antropov to the Rangers at the trade deadline last March in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 2009 and a conditional pick in 2010. He signed a US$16-million, four-year deal with Atlanta as an unrestricted free agent on July 2.

Antropov wasn't the only former Leaf in Atlanta's lineup. Defenceman Pavel Kubina, who spent three seasons with the Maple Leafs from 2006 to 2009 was traded to Atlanta on July 11 in exchange for defenceman Garnet Exelby and minor-league forward Colin Stuart.

Kubina picked up an assist on Bryan Little's third-period power-play goal, but also had a mostly forgettable outing with a minus-3 rating.

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Former Leaf Nik Antropov struggles in return to Air Canada Centre