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Hockey

The great goodbye?

Leafs eliminate bankrupt Penguins with 4-3 OT win

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Posted: Tuesday May 18, 1999 01:58 AM

  Fine time to shine: Garry Valk is hugged by Bryan Berard (34) after scoring his first of two goals in the playoffs. AP

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are going to the Eastern Conference finals. The Pittsburgh Penguins only wish they knew where they were going.

Garry Valk, a discarded Penguin, scored his first two career playoff goals and the Maple Leafs ousted the bankrupt Penguins from their second-round series, 4-3 in overtime of Game 6 Monday night.

The Maple Leafs, in danger of falling behind in the series 3-1 only five days ago, won the final three games, two in overtime.

"There's such a fine line between winning and losing in overtime," Mats Sundin said of Toronto's 3-0 overtime record in these playoffs. "When we get into overtime, we seem to find a way to win."

Toronto advances to the conference final, against either Buffalo or Boston, for the first time since 1994. The Penguins face an uncertain future in bankruptcy court that could see the franchise sold to Mario Lemieux's investment group, dissolved or moved by next month.

Valk's winner at 1:57 of overtime was eerily reminiscent of Sergei Berezin's OT goal in Game 4 Thursday in Pittsburgh.

After Yanic Perreault won a faceoff, Berezin's shot rebounded off goaltender Tom Barrasso to a skidding Valk, who pushed it into the empty net as he left his skates.

"When he is shooting, I'm trying to go to the net," Valk said. "Barrasso stepped on it and it came loose. I tried to crosscheck [Jiri] Slegr out of the way and the puck was just laying there. It was an ugly garbage goal."

Maple Leafs fans haven't seen anything so beautiful since 1994, when Toronto lost to Vancouver in the Western Conference finals.

For the Penguins in this series, it was overtime and out. Coincidentally, the Penguins were one of the NHL's best regular-season teams in overtime: 7-1-14.

"In overtime, it's whoever gets the lucky bounce," the Penguins' Rob Brown. "They got two of them."

When training camp started this season, Valk didn't know if he would have a job. He admitted to being extra motivated against the team that cut him.

"Last year was a tough year for me. It's nice I got a second chance," said Valk, who had two goals in 39 games for Pittsburgh last season. "Coming from where I came from, sitting at home with no job to playing in the playoffs, this is for all of the other guys who don't have jobs and want to play in the NHL."

Toronto trailed 2-0 with less than 15 minutes gone, but Lonny Bohonos and Valk scored 26 seconds apart early in the second period to neutralize Pittsburgh's strong start.

Berezin then gave the Maple Leafs their first lead at 11:43, a slap shot from near the top of the right circle moments after Perreault won a faceoff.

Suddenly down 3-2 less than 12 minutes after holding a two-goal lead, the Penguins regained the urgency they had in the opening minutes and tied it on -- who else? -- Jaromir Jagr's goal at 14:41.

Jagr skated to the top of the crease to put in Kip Miller's pass from the left circle, his fifth goal in his last nine playoff games. He missed four games and was hampered in several others by a groin injury.

The Penguins, held to 30 shots while losing the previous two games, came out shooting on every opportunity and built up 14 shots -- and their two-goal lead -- in less than 15 minutes.

Curtis Joseph, who stopped 25 of 28 shots, turned away several good scoring chances while making seven saves in the opening 3:50. But the Penguins scored at 5:04 when Jagr grabbed his own rebound behind the net and fed to Brown.

Alexei Kovalev, back in the lineup after missing two games with a sore ankle, scored at 14:06 on the Penguins' 14th shot, as many as they had in losing Game 4. Pittsburgh was 0-3 in the playoffs when Kovalev was injured.

Even though it was possibly the Penguins' last game in Pittsburgh, only one banner in a sold-out Civic Arena referred to their possible demise. Hanging a few feet below their two Stanley Cup championship banners, it read: "Let's Go Pens ... Forever."

"This group at any point of the season could have latched onto a reason to not do well: the bankruptcy, the injuries we suffered, playing 13 different defensemen," coach Kevin Constantine said. "They refused to do that. They wanted to win a Stanley Cup badly. My disappointment is for them."

 
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The Penguins needed Tom Barrasso to be sharp in OT to avoid elimination.
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