Win-Or-Go-Home Time For Blue & White
GAME: Philadelphia Flyers at Toronto Maple Leafs.
PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference semifinals; Flyers lead 3-2.
TIME: Tuesday, 7 p.m. EDT.
The Philadelphia Flyers obliterated any momentum the Toronto Maple Leafs might have had with an overpowering performance in Game 5 of their semifinal series.
The question now is whether the Flyers can carry that effort with them to Canada as they attempt to close out the Leafs.
Philadelphia looks to earn the first victory by a road team in the series as it heads to Air Canada Centre for Game 6.
The Flyers brought a 2-0 lead to Toronto for Games 3 and 4, and looked to be in full control of the series. But they stumbled home Friday after being outscored 7-2 in losing both contests in front of the Leafs' raucous fans.
Philadelphia, though, regained control by duplicating the combined score of its two losses Sunday, pounding Toronto 7-2 at the Wachovia Center to push the Leafs to the brink of elimination.
Captain Keith Primeau addressed his teammates in a closed-door meeting before the game, then scored three goals, and Michal Handzus scored twice as the Flyers held on to what appears to be a critical home-ice advantage in the series.
"We were plodding along in a series that we had control of," Primeau said of the losses in Games 3 and 4. "We had to get back to skating and getting to the net. Tonight, we did that and because of that we got rewarded and got a win."
Philadelphia, the second seed in the East playoffs, knows at the very least it will return home Thursday for a possible Game 7. The Flyers have outscored the Leafs 12-4 in winning the three games at the Wachovia Center.
If Toronto doesn't make drastic improvements from Game 5, however, Philadelphia's trip home will be to regroup before opening the conference finals. The Maple Leafs were terrible defensively and were unable to handle the relentless puck pressure generated by the Flyers, who jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back.
The Toronto defence pairing of Bryan McCabe and Brian Leetch struggled the most, with McCabe's first-period turnover leading directly to Mark Recchi's goal at 3:51 to open the scoring. McCabe was a minus-5, while Leetch finished minus-4.
Able to get under the skin of the Flyers in Games 3 and 4 en route to tying the series at home, the Maple Leafs were unable to match the Flyers' physical play in Game 5. Both teams came out hitting, but Philadelphia seemed to feed off the contact and raise its level of play.
"I don't know where to start," said Leafs captain Mats Sundin, also a minus-4. "Before the game, there was no doubt we were mentally and physically prepared."
Victimized by Toronto's soft defense, Ed Belfour was chased in the second period after allowing six goals on 18 shots. He was replaced by Trevor Kidd, who stopped 10 of 11 shots.
The Flyers also had to switch goaltenders during the game, but not because of poor play. Robert Esche departed with what was originally termed an "upper-body injury" by the Flyers, but turned out to be flu symptoms. He left after the first period and was replaced by Sean Burke, but practiced Monday and could start Game 6.
Esche wouldn't speak to reporters after practice, but did relay a statement through coach Ken Hitchcock: "I had a lot of jump out there today. I felt better this morning after I woke up, and my energy level felt back to normal."
Defenceman Vladimir Malakhov is doubtful, however, after suffering a head injury. He was on the receiving end of a big first-period hit by Toronto's Darcy Tucker that resulted in a charging penalty.
There's little doubt a series that saw the physical play elevate during the first two games in Toronto will continue that theme in Game 6. Things got ugly late in Game 5, with Philadelphia enforcer Donald Brashear receiving a misconduct and Toronto tough guy Tie Domi getting ejected in the third period.
The Flyers will look to duplicate the energy level they had at the outset Sunday, having immediately put Toronto on the defensive. They're sure to be met by a desperate and embarrassed Leafs team that doesn't plan on getting banged around again, especially in front of its own fans.
"We have to make sure we come back and play much better right from the start," Belfour said. "Going home is definitely going to help us."
The Leafs will play Game 6 without veteran Ken Klee, who suffered a knee injury in the first period Sunday. Klee, one of Toronto's steadiest defencemen in these playoffs, will be replaced Tuesday by Karel Pilar, who has yet to play this postseason.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Flyers - 3rd seed; beat New Jersey Devils 4-1, quarterfinals. Maple Leafs - 4th seed; beat Ottawa Senators 4-3, quarterfinals.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Flyers - Primeau, 5 goals; Alex Zhamnov, 7 assists and 11 points; Brashear, 18 PIM. Maple Leafs - Joe Nieuwendyk, 6 goals; Leetch, 8 assists; Leetch and McCabe, 8 points; Domi, 39 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Flyers - Power play: 21.2 percent (7 for 33). Penalty killing: 88.1 percent (37 for 42). Maple Leafs - Power play: 10.7 percent (6 for 56). Penalty killing: 89.3 percent (50 for 56).
GOALTENDERS: Flyers - Esche (7-3, 1 SO, 2.04 GAA); Burke (0-0, 1.50). Maple Leafs - Belfour (6-6, 3, 2.04); Kidd (0-0, 1.82).-- Associated Press