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With just six games remaining - two fewer than each of the three teams they’re competing with for two spots - the Leafs are fourth among those teams and know the difficult task in front of them.

“We’ve 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 we’re going to have to have every one, probably.”

Phaneuf didn’t want to consider that daunting task. The defenseman whose miscues cost the Leafs in previous defeats didn’t 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 March 16.

“It’s not like we’re playing bad hockey, it’s just one of those things where every mistake that we do make ends up (in our net),” said defenseman Cody Franson, who opened the scoring 10:57 into the first period.

“It’s the end of the season, everybody’s clamping down and your little mistakes end up costing you. Plain and simple.”

Mistakes such as a turnover by Phil Kessel on the power play early in the second that led to Helm’s first, a short-handed goal. Or such as the puck taking a bad hop off Franson and right to Helm for his third.

“It just isn’t meant to be for us right now, and this is the tough ones,” Toronto 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. “It’s tough to say from the bench, that’s something you notice when you watch the game again. But the try is there, just we didn’t get the job done and we have to pay for that now.”

The Leafs have been paying since they last won a game, March 13 at the Los Angeles Kings. Most importantly they haven’t been picking up valuable points with the games whittling down to the end of the regular season.

Every game down the stretch is big for the Leafs. 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 another loss after eight in a row. As the Leafs seemed to realize Saturday night, they can no longer afford to lose.

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