Work in Sports
Devils' defense coughs one up
Posted: Thursday May 04, 2000 09:54 AM
By Ken Klavon, CNNSI.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Though they must have felt as if they were navigating a tsunami in a row boat, the Toronto Maple Leafs came out of Continental Arena alive Wednesday night.
Outshot 36-22, Toronto weathered another fierce New Jersey attack, which has become a familiar theme in this series. After four games, the Devils have outshot the Leafs 138-86. But somehow the Leafs are heading home with the series tied 2-2.
"Who cares," Toronto forward Darcy Tucker said. "All that matters most is who has the most goals at the end of the game."
Or who made the most costly mistakes.
In this game it was clearly the Devils. And the miscues came from an unlikely bunch -- namely the defensive corps, which prides itself on being an error-free cohesive unit.
All three Toronto goals were the result of defensive breakdowns. After falling behind 1-0 just 1:41 into the game, the Maple Leafs did not wither as they had done in their two losses. Instead, they pressed and forced the New Jersey defensemen to cough up the puck.
On the first Toronto goal, Brian Rafalski got caught on the boards at center ice as Mats Sundin poked the puck ahead to Jonas Hoglund. Rafalski's partner, Scott Stevens, tried in vain to cover as Hoglund streaked in uncontested and feathered a soft goal past Martin Brodeur.
"[Steve] Thomas and Sundin were against the wall and Brian was caught trying to fend them off," Stevens said. "Then they got the puck to [Hoglund], who had speed going in."
Later in the first period, Toronto capitalized again. While the Leafs cycled in the offensive zone, New Jersey defenseman Colin White strayed to deliver an ineffective hit on Igor Korolev, who was able to kick the puck along the boards to Sergei Berezin. The open lane created by White's absence allowed Berezin to filter in alone on Brodeur before he found Tucker. Brodeur lunged, but missed Tucker's weak backhander.
"The first two goals especially were breakdowns," Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko said. "We have to play sound in our own end. We have to just focus and concentrate, especially if we're a little uptight.
"We tried to do something special each time and that's when we turned the puck over and made mistakes."
Toronto's Wendel Clark, who posed a constant problem with strong forechecking, believes forcing turnovers is the Leafs' best chance in the series.
"They're a good hockey team that plays good defense," he said. "We just have to play high tempo and to our strength."
Even after Claude Lemieux tied the game late in the third, Toronto did not fold. The Leafs instead attacked, even though the momentum was clearly on New Jersey's side.
With 1:42 remaining and the Devils storming the Toronto zone, defenseman Scott Niedermayer mishandled the puck. The Leafs moved up ice and Tomas Kaberle made the Devils pay once again with a slap shot that beat Brodeur cleanly.
The Leafs' bench erupted. They weathered the storm to live another day. But Stevens was in no mood to acknowledge it.
"We didn't start skating until the second and third periods. We just have to stop them in our own end and make sure we get better coverage next time," Stevens said.