Work in Sports
Gritty Leafs refuse to fall
Posted: Friday May 05, 2000 04:55 PM
By Ken Klavon, CNNSI.com
Funny what one game can do for the psyche.
Morose and testy after two consecutive losses, the Toronto Maple Leafs are suddenly riding a crest of newfound confidence thanks to their Game 4 win over the New Jersey Devils.
"We've always been a confident bunch of guys," forward Darcy Tucker said defiantly after his fourth playoff goal helped Toronto to a 3-2 victory. "We have a lot of leadership in this room and none of us will ever throw in the towel."
Meanwhile, the Devils are wondering what more they can do. They realize that controlling the flow of a game -- or the series -- doesn't necessarily mean a ticket to the next round. Game 5 is Saturday in Toronto.
"A loss is a loss. That's the bottom line in playoff hockey," Devils forward Claude Lemieux.
New Jersey has badly outplayed Toronto in three of the of the first four games. The Devils, dominating in nearly every facet, have outshot (138-86), outscored (9-6), and outperformed the Maple Leafs on special teams. In Game 4 the Devils out-hit the Maple Leafs 45-35, and won 67% of the faceoffs. The only area the Devils concede to the Maple Leafs -- and happily so -- is the man losses to injury.
The stat sheet is so tilted in the Devils' favor that one might think this series should already be over.
"Yeah, it's a little tough," Devils forward Randy McKay said. "It is frustrating."
Said defenseman Ken Daneyko, showing a nasty welt from a Wendel Clark high-stick to his left eye: "We could be up 4-0, but we're not, it's 2-2. And in the two wins they have, [Curtis] Joseph stood on his head."
Being on life support doesn't exactly appeal to the banged-up Maple Leafs. No one would blame them if they succumbed to New Jersey's suffocating but effective style of play. But the Leafs continue to persevere despite having enough reasons to call it a season. The losses of Bryan Berard and Nik Antropov to injury, and a sputtering power play (0-for-17) in the series would be enough to send most teams into a tailspin. But that's most teams.
So why do they continue to surprise everyone but themselves? The answer lies somewhere between playing desperate hockey and Joseph's knack for the near-impossible save.
"It becomes a favorite word, desperation," Toronto coach Pat Quinn said. "They are all important now. Going back home 2-2 is big. Being down 3-1 is not fun, and the odds are you don't come back from it."
Said Devils coach Larry Robinson: "We had a couple of unbelievable opportunities that Cujo either was lucky stopping or made unbelievable saves. They were just glorious chances to put the game away, which we did in Game 1 and weren't able to do [in Game 4]."
So what's left of this series is a best two-out-of-three. For the Devils, it's a few more chances to bury an enemy that just won't go down. And for the Maple Leafs? It's another opportunity to prove their mettle.
"We're a lot more confident now than we were after Game 3," Toronto
center Mats Sundin said. "I think we can play