Blowing in the wind
Maple Leafs at loss to explain most recent defeats
Posted: Sunday May 30, 1999 07:05 PM
TORONTO (AP) -- Great expectations have turned to grand despair for the Toronto Maple Leafs. And nobody seems to know why.
"I didn't expect we'd come back and win necessarily," Toronto coach Pat Quinn said following the Maple Leafs' embarrassing 5-2 loss Saturday night to the Buffalo Sabres at Marine Midland Arena. "But I didn't expect we'd have that kind of short response. We kind of disintegrated."
That left them down 3-1 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
For the second straight game, the Maple Leafs played as though it were the middle of January instead of a warm night in late May, when visions of etching one's name on the Stanley Cup have a tendency to drive hockey players.
In Game 3 on Thursday night, the Sabres scored three goals in less than five minutes in the second period and won 4-2. Barrages like that rarely occur in the playoffs, let alone at this juncture.
It happened again Saturday in a shorter span.
Brian Holzinger, Rob Ray, and Geoff Sanderson scored in less than three minutes early in the second period as the Toronto defense collapsed in front of goalie Curtis Joseph. The flurry transformed a 1-0 game into a rout.
Although the Maple Leafs had 33 shots at Buffalo goalie Dominik Hasek, he was rarely tested.
"They beat us to every loose puck. They initiated every hit," said Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin, who scored both Toronto goals, the first on his second penalty shot of the playoffs. "Every play for the first two periods, it looked like our heads were somewhere else, like we were too tense to play."
Until their uninspired play against the Sabres, the Maple Leafs had been the surprise team of the playoffs.
In the first round, they took advantage of the absence of Philadelphia star Eric Lindros, got some clutch goaltending from Joseph, and rallied from a 2-1 deficit to eliminate the Flyers in six games. They did the same to Pittsburgh in the next round with Penguins star Jaromir Jagr slowed by a nagging groin injury.
With Hasek, who makes the Sabres so dangerous, and Miroslav Satan, the team's leading scorer, sitting out the first two games of the finals with injuries, the Maple Leafs again had luck on their side. But they lost the opener at home, 5-4, to the Sabres, who relied on a goalie who had never started a playoff game to bail them out.
When both Hasek and Satan returned to the lineup for Game 3, the Maple Leafs' good fortune abruptly ended. Now they are one loss away from elimination, and the Sabres have no intention of letting them back into the series.
"It's got to be time to go for the killer instinct," Holzinger said. "We're going to have to go into Toronto and play like we're capable of playing."
The Maple Leafs displayed some of their resilience in Game 2, scoring two goals late in the game for a 6-3 win after Buffalo had rallied from a three-goal deficit to trail by just one goal.
But with Hasek's health still questionable, they have been unable to test him with any regularity because of Buffalo's dogged checking. That will have to change for the Maple Leafs to have any chance of rallying again on Monday night at Air Canada Centre.
"We're playing good at home," Sundin said. "It's going to be a different story. We're going to do everything we can. If we win at home, we're back in the series."
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