Maple Leafs 6, Capitals 4

It's a phrase Olie Kolzig often uses to describe wretched stretches such as the one his Washington Capitals suffered through early in the third period.

The veteran goalie calls it the "snowball effect," and it's usually sparked by a unfortunate bounce, a defensive breakdown or a senseless penalty. Tuesday night, it was all of the above at Air Canada Center, where the Capitals blew a two-goal lead, then surrendered three goals in less than two minutes and lost, 6-4.

"They are an opportunistic team," said Kolzig, who was replaced after the Maple Leafs' fifth score. "They've got the kind of guys who can get it done. So if we have any lapses, they'll find a way to put the puck in the net. We just couldn't get that third goal, because that would have really made it tough on them."

The loss ended Washington's meager winning streak at two and wasted another sublime performance by Alex Ovechkin, who recorded his fifth two-goal game this season and second in a row. The rookie left wing also netted two goals Sunday in the Capitals' 5-4 win over the Maple Leafs at MCI Center.

In front of 19,421 boisterous Leafs fans, the Capitals took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission thanks to goals by Ben Clymer and Ovechkin, whose late tally came on a four-on-four. The rookie trapped an attempted clearing pass along the boards, passed the puck to Dainius Zubrus, who, in a single motion, flipped it back to Ovechkin, who unleashed a wrist shot over Ed Belfour's blocker.

But the Caps' edge didn't survive the second period. The Leafs regrouped and tied the game on goals by Chad Kilger and Jeff O'Neill, whose score came on the power play.

Then came the Capitals' third-period meltdown. Alexei Ponikarovsky wrestled the puck away from winger Chris Clark and beat Kolzig with a powerful wrist shot at 5 minutes 35 seconds. Next, Capitals defenseman Bryan Muir was whistled for hooking and Leafs defenseman Bryan McCabe made them pay on the ensuing power play, blasting a one-timer past Kolzig at 6:57. Then, 29 seconds later, Toronto captain Mats Sundin scored on a wraparound to make the score 5-2. Kolzig was relieved by Brent Johnson moments later.

Ovechkin and Matt Pettinger scored later in the third period, but the damage was already done.

"We were on our heels a lot and they were able to capitalize," Capitals captain Jeff Halpern said of the third period. "We didn't get many calls and we could have used a break."

Capitals Notes: It took the Capitals three years to get Petr Sykora to come to the NHL, and it took the player less than three months to decide it wasn't for him. Sykora, who had two goals and two assists in 10 games, has returned to his native Czech Republic, where he will rejoin his club team, Pardubice. The skilled 26-year-old right wing had missed the Capitals' past three games with a back injury.

"The Capitals were great to Petr," Sykora's Edmonton-based agent, Rich Evans, said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "But Petr's heart wasn't in it."

Evans added that Sykora had been struggling to adapt to the NHL and life in North America. One of his Capitals teammates said he looked unhappy and often preferred to stay in his hotel room, perhaps, he speculated, because Sykora spoke limited English. Sykora, who goes by the same name as Anaheim's star player, remains under contract until the end of the season, but his $525,000 salary will no longer be paid by the Capitals. He was acquired from Nashville in 2002, but his arrival in Washington was delayed three times because of contractual difficulties.

Capitals General Manager George McPhee said in a statement, "Petr wanted to return to the Czech Republic and we have agreed to the transfer."

Asked if Sykora might consider returning to the NHL, Evans said, "I don't see him changing his mind." . . .

Veteran center Andrew Cassels was a healthy scratch for the third consecutive game. Defenseman Mathieu Biron was also a scratch, and left wing Jeff Friesen sat out with a strained groin muscle.

Maple Leafs center Alexander Steen watches as Capitals goaltender Olie Kolzig makes a stick save.