TORONTO - By Monday morning - hours after an increasingly perilous skid hit five - more than a few members of the wobbling Maple Leafs were on the third floor of the Air Canada Centre, playing some basketball on the practice court of the neighbouring Toronto Raptors. "I think some guys just wanted to go shoot some hoops and loosen up," said captain Dion Phaneuf on a rest day for most of his teammates. The Leafs are doing what they can to loosen up and shake the ills of a losing streak that has them tumbling closer and closer to another late season collapse and early spring exit. In fine position as recently as two weeks ago - second in the Atlantic following a statement win in L.A. - they are now simply clinging to the final wild card position in the East with a grueling test against St. Louis ahead on Tuesday night. "No ones happy with whats gone on," said Phaneuf, "but its reality. We have got to come [Tuesday] prepared and ready to go." Just as the highs of a win streak are exaggerated so too are the lows of a losing slide. Toronto has lost five straight, all close games and all with a series of consistent and untimely trends. First has been the sluggish starts and inability to score the games first goal. The Leafs have a .714 winning percentage this season when they score first, a .289 mark when they dont. Theyve given up that valued first goal in seven straight games, falling behind by two or more in five of the seven (six losses). And while theyve improbably rallied to tie or pull within one in each of the five losses - even leading briefly against Tampa - the uphill climb has ultimately proven too steep to overcome. "The one issue for us, more than anything, is that we seem to have been putting ourselves in the position of clawing back into games," head coach Randy Carlyle observed. "And you wont have success if you continually have to do that." "Weve played from behind too often," Phaneuf concurred. "When we have been coming from behind thats when weve been attacking more than from the start. When you do get down you play with more desperation. We have to find a way to play with that desperation right from the get-go." Not helping matters, though certainly not the singular point of blame, has been the goaltending. His confidence simply sunk at this point, James Reimer has not provided anywhere near the top-tier caliber of goaltending that Jonathan Bernier delivered before his injury, the kind of elite nightly theatrics the defensively-inept Leafs require to win. Consider Berniers 8-2-2 record and .947 save percentage this season when facing 40 shots as reminders of that ability to perform under heavy strain. Reimer, meanwhile, has a disastrous .871 save percentage in five starts in place of Bernier. Nursing the first groin injury of his career, Bernier was on the ice again Monday afternoon, but wasnt sure if hed be available to return against the Blues. "It hurts to see your team lose," he said, "but at the same time its one of those injuries [where] youve got to take time. Dont want to rush and then youre out for another four or five games after." Bernier said his readiness would be determined by the teams medical staff, but said hed know for himself when he was able to make "a split save or that I can make that stretch save and not think about it I guess." Update: Bernier was the projected starter on Tuesday morning. Without him, Carlyle would be faced with difficult question in goal for a tough tilt against the best team in the West. Start Reimer for the sixth consecutive game despite his struggles or hand the net to Drew MacIntyre, the 30-year-old who has yet to start an NHL game. While perhaps difficult to envision Carlyle turning back to Reimer yet again, consider that under similarly challenging circumstance - two sets of back-to-backs in the past week - he went with the struggling former no. 1 each and every time. The tried and tested product, however unstable at the moment, may be more appealing than the unknown. Reimer was pulled for MacIntyre in the teams fifth straight loss on Sunday night. "What happened last game, surely you take that into consideration, but the most important thing is that the individual we choose to represent us at that position tomorrow night we feel confident he can get the job done," said Carlyle. Beyond goaltending are the series of game-changing mistakes and breakdowns that have often left Reimer on an island all his own, left to sink or swim in an unforgiving crease. Bernier bailed out those mistakes more often than not. Reimer has not. There was Troy Brouwer left all by his lonesome in the slot during the first loss in Washington. There were two Gustav Nyquist breakaway goals in Detroit. It was three times open for Steven Stamkos in Toronto. There was the Phil Kessel neutral zone giveaway which sprung Max Pacioretty against Montreal, a Rene Bourque breakaway coming shortly after. And most recently, a bad line change and pinch that sparked an odd-man rush goal from Damien Brunner and then later another breakaway, this time from Patrik Elias. "What we have to do is we have to limit our mistakes," said Carlyle. "Were making too many of them that are costing us in the hockey games." Additionally, the Leafs have been unable to find much offence beyond their top line. Without the likes of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, and Tyler Bozak scoring two or three a night, theyve simply not produced enough to overshadow other faults as was often the case in victories earlier this season. "Theres still lots of hockey to be played," Phaneuf said. "Theres lots of points that are available for us. We obviously are not happy about what has happened, but whats happened has happened. 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PETERSBURG, Florida Heading into Thursday nights action, Dioner Navarro had caught 14 innings combined from starters Drew Hutchison and Mark Buehrle.CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Carolina coach Ron Rivera said its too soon to know who will start at quarterback next Sunday when the Panthers host the Cleveland Browns.With Cam Newton resting his back following an automobile accident, Derek Anderson threw for 277 yards and a touchdown and picked up his second win of the season in a 19-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.Rivera said he wont make any decisions until possibly mid-week on Newton, who is recovering from two lower back fractures after flipping his truck on Tuesday in a two-car wreck.Im not making any decisions until I get the opportunity to watch him on the football field, listen to what the trainers and doctors have to tell me, and then we will make our decision, Rivera said. But to make any judgment right now would be premature and would be a mistake.Anderson is 2-0 as Carolinas starter this season, although both wins have come against the lowly Bucs (2-12). Newton is 3-8-1.Rivera thought Anderson did some good things, but wanted him to get into the end zone more. The Panthers reached or started in Tampa Bay territory on every possession Sunday, but scored just 19 points.I wanted more for Derek Anderson, Rivera said. Derek is a very capable football player and he knows it. We talked about it during the game. He knows he could have put some more points on the board.Newton appeared to be moving around well on the sideline, but Rivera said hes unsure when the fourth-year quarterback will begin throwing the ball. He said hell know more on Wednesday.Anderson said he knows once Newton is healthy, hell be handing the reins of the offence back to the two-time Pro Bowl selection.I know what kind of person he is, what kind of competitor he is, Anderson said. If he can play, if he feels like he can play and go out there and win football games for us, hell do that.Here are some things to know about Carolinas second straight win and Tampa Bays fourtth straight loss:FLOUNDERING OFFENSE: The Bucs have scored 17 points or fewer in 11 of their 14 games, including each of the last four.dddddddddddd On their first four drives of the third quarter on Sunday, the Bucs totalled minus-2 yards on offence.OLSEN ON A TEAR: Panthers tight end Greg Olsen appears to be on his way to his first Pro Bowl. For the second straight week, Olsen caught 10 passes. He finished with 110 yards. He has 81 receptions for 960 yards and six touchdowns this season. If I see him one-on-one with a guy that I know cant cover him, I have a lot of confidence in what hes going to do, Anderson said.MOVING PARTS: Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith shuffled his offensive line by benching Anthony Collins and moving Demar Dotson to left tackle. Oniel Cousins started at right tackle. The Bucs ran for 155 yards, but surrendered three sacks leading to two forced fumbles. We just thought for him in general, our best tackle, can he play the left side? Smith said. Trying to win football games, but thought he would be able to handle that. ... I thought he did a decent job.STILL IN THE HUNT: Amazing as it sounds, the Panthers lead the NFC South despite a 5-8-1 record. New Orleans is 5-8 heading into Monday nights game at Chicago, and Atlanta dropped to 5-9 with Sundays 27-20 loss to Pittsburgh. Its pretty crazy, Olsen said. But were not going to apologize for it.DEFENSIVE IMPROVING: Carolinas defence has been steadily improving over the past half-dozen games. It limited Tampa Bay to 287 yards and 15 first downs on Sunday, while sacking Josh McCown three times and forcing three turnovers. That might be enough to get by in upcoming games against Cleveland and Atlanta, but what remains to be seen is if they have improved enough to compete against a playoff-calibre team should the Panthers qualify for the post-season.___AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL ' ' '