Leafs Look For Strangle Hold
April 14, 2004
GAME: Toronto Maple Leafs at Ottawa Senators.
PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference quarterfinals; Maple Leafs lead 2-1.
TIME: Wednesday, 7 p.m. EDT., CBC
Ottawa Senators fans surely will be back twirling white flags at the Corel Centre.
Their team could be waving them in surrender to Ed Belfour.
It's been well over two hours of ice time since the Senators last scored on Belfour and the Toronto Maple Leafs heading into Game 4 of this quarterfinal series.
By posting shutouts in the last two games, Belfour has staked Toronto to a 2-1 series lead. Ottawa has not put the puck past him since early in the third period of its Game 1 win - a span of 138 minutes, 21 seconds.
"I've seen it before with him," said Leafs center Joe Nieuwendyk, who won a Stanley Cup with Belfour for Dallas in 1999. "He really enjoys this time of year and he's playing with a lot of focus. He prepares himself better than any goalie I've ever played with."
A sellout Corel Centre crowd of 18,500 waved white towels to encourage the Senators as the series shifted to Ottawa on Monday, but the frantic fans did not faze Belfour as the Leafs won 2-0. The 15-year veteran made 37 saves Monday after stopping 31 shots in a 2-0 win in Game 2.
"We just have to find a way to beat him and score some goals," Senators defenseman Zdeno Chara said. "We all realize he's beatable, but he's just having the games of his life."
Belfour's success in this series is a continuation of the regular season, when he went 3-0-1 against the Leafs while allowing just four goals.
Asked if he thought he has gotten into the Senators' heads, Belfour displayed some rare wit.
"I don't worry about things like that, I focus on my own game," he said. "That's psychology."
However, Ottawa has to be wondering if it is snake-bitten against Toronto. These teams met in the postseason in 2000, 2001 and 2002, and the Leafs won every series. Plus, Toronto has won all four games it has played at the Corel Centre this season.
Ottawa, which has outshot Toronto 98-60 in this series, was the league's highest-scoring team during the regular season.
"He's a very good goalie, let's not kid ourselves, but we're a very good team," Senators forward Bryan Smolinski said.
"We've just got to keep pounding the puck to the net, I mean one of them is going to go in and once we get one, we're going to get a bunch."
Belfour stopped 10 shots by Marian Hossa, who had two goals in Game 1, en route to his 13th career playoff shutout Monday as he moved into second place among active goalies behind New Jersey's Martin Brodeur. Belfour also recorded his 84th NHL playoff win to keep pace with Brodeur among active players.
"With experience you're bound to get better somehow, as long you work hard at it, stay healthy and keep your focus," said Belfour, who turns 39 next week.
Mats Sundin has produced offensively in the last two games with a goal and two assists after failing to register a point or a shot in Game 1.
Shutting him down will be a key for Ottawa netminder Patrick Lalime, who has not been challenged much through three games and made just 54 saves.
The series goes back to Toronto on Friday for Game 5.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Maple Leafs - 103 points; 4th seed. Senators - 102 points; 5th seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Maple Leafs - Gary Roberts and Nieuwendyk, 2 goals; Sundin, Brian Leetch and Ron Francis, 2 assists; Sundin, 3 points; Nik Antropov, 8 PIM. Senators - Hossa, 2 goals; Martin Havlat, 2 assists, Hossa and Havlat, 2 points; Chara and Chris Neil, 6 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Maple Leafs - Power play: 14.3 percent (2 for 14). Penalty killing: 88.2 percent (15 for 17). Senators - Power play: 11.8 percent (2 for 17). Penalty killing: 85.7 percent (12 for 14).
GOALTENDERS: Maple Leafs - Belfour (2-1, 2 SO, 1.33 GAA); Trevor Kidd (no appearances). Senators - Lalime (1-2, 2.02); Martin Prusek (no appearances).
-- Associated Press