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Special teams specialty

Tuesday, 10.12.2002 / 12:00 AM / News
Toronto Maple Leafs
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Special teams specialty
by John McCauley

Stopping Mario Lemieux and his Pittsburgh Penguins on the power play is no easy task.

They're ranked No. 1 in the NHL for extra-attacker potency and considering Super Mario is racking up points at a staggering rate, the Leafs were hoping to just keep the damage to a minimum.

Mission accomplished in Tuesday night's 4-2 victory at Air Canada Centre. It was Toronto's 10th in 13 tries since a less than stellar start. Pittsburgh has now lost five straight contests and conceded the playoff spot they shared with the Leafs heading into the tilt.

Ed Belfour has been one of the Leafs best penalty killers.
Graig Abel Photography
One powerplay goal was all Lemieux could muster on a debatable call mid-way through the third period. Bryan McCabe was called for holding seconds after Mats Sundin was hauled down at the opposite end. The goal locked the game at two and seemed to switch the momentum in Pittsburgh's favour.

That is until an obvious makeup call gave the man advantage to Toronto. It was Sundin and Alex Mogilny's opportunity to weave some magic. Almo delivered a perfect saucer pass to his captain's stick as he roared in from the wing and neatly tucked a backhander behind Jean-Sebastien Aubin for his 55th game winner as a Leaf.

But Sundin and Mogilny haven't just been producing at the offensive end. The talented twosome has been killing penalties as well, helping the Leafs become one of the best teams in that Eastern Conference at the craft.

"It just extra ice time. It keeps you in the game. Nobody likes to sit on the bench, especially nowadays with all the power plays," Mogilny quipped after the win. "It keeps the flow. I enjoy it. What's the worst that can happen? They score."

That's the thing though, teams haven't been scoring. In the last 13 games, the penalty killers have allowed just five powerplay goals. Pat Quinn and Mogilny agree that the key is simply goaltending.

"Eddie's been stopping the puck. That's the only difference," Mogilny said.

"We had good penalty killing tonight." Quinn said "Plus Eddie was sharp and he's on a bit of a roll and that's the biggest part of your penalty killing."

Veteran forward Tom Fitzgerald gives credit to Belfour as well, but believes there is some science to it.

"Penalty killing is instinct and reaction, but you also have to use your head." Fitzgerald explained. "You have to make them do things they don't want to do and we've been doing that over this stretch and it builds confidence."
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