Work in Sports
KANATA, Ontario (Ticker) -- After all the injuries and losses, the Toronto Maple Leafs picked up their biggest win of the season in the most unlikely place.
Steve Thomas had a goal and an assist during a four-goal second period as the Maple Leafs advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals by rallying for a 4-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators.
The Maple Leafs won the series four games to two, clinching it at the Corel Centre, where they had won just once in eight games all-time and had a number of players suffer injuries this season.
Thomas scored the first of four unanswered goals 4:11 into the second period, 12 seconds after Ottawa went ahead 2-0 and moments after defenseman Danny Markov took a slap shot in the face.
Markov later returned and assisted on the game-winning goal. Other Leafs injured in Ottawa this season included captain Mats Sundin, rookie center Nik Antropov and defenseman Bryan Berard, who lost vision in his left eye when he was hit with a stick.
Sundin, Sergei Berezin and Wendel Clark also scored for the Leafs, who improved to 2-8-1 all-time at the Corel Centre and became the first road team to win in the series. They took a three games to two lead with an overtime win Saturday.
"It's a bit of relief it's over," Leafs goaltender Curtis Joseph said. "We got a couple of breaks. Sometimes it's a bounce here or there. Last game was huge. The overtime goal was the difference (in the series)."
Joseph made 36 saves for Toronto, which will play New Jersey in the conference semifinals, beginning here Thursday. The Devils completed a four-game sweep of the Florida Panthers on Thursday.
"We'll reflect on the game tonight, and tomorrow is a work day," Joseph said. "We have a couple of days to heal. We match up well with them but the playoffs is a totally different season. Home ice is a definite advantage. It's what we worked for all year."
Joe Juneau and Igor Kravchuk scored for the Senators, who failed on a two-man advantage for the second straight game, fell to 0-5 all-time in elimination games and lost a first-round series for the third time in four years.
"Inexperience was a factor," Senators coach Jacques Martin said. "Our lack of production hurt us. We learned some lessons. We have to re-evaluate and keep progressing. This organization has a good history of that."
Ottawa appeared in control 3:59 into the second period when Kravchuk beat Joseph with a slap shot to make it 2-0. But Thomas scored 12 seconds later and Toronto added three more in the period to take control.
"When we were down two goals, we hung in there," Sundin said. "I have no doubt in myself or any of my teammates. To our credit, our biggest asset is this bunch of guys who don't want to lose."
With the crowd still buzzing from Kravchuk's goal, Thomas picked up Sami Salo's errant clear, faked a slap shot from the top of the right faceoff circle, skated to the high slot and beat Tom Barrasso with a snap shot to halve Toronto's deficit.
"We had a good game until Thomas scored," Martin said.
Thomas, who scored both goals in Saturday's 2-1 overtime win, finished the series with six, the most by a Toronto player in the postseason since Clark had seven in 1994.
"This probably is my best series," said Thomas, a 16-year veteran who has 43 goals in 125 playoff games. "Things happened for me and they went in, which gave me great confidence. My goal was very fortunate."
"Every series you need a guy to be hot, and this series it was Thomas," Joseph said.
The line of Thomas, Sundin and Jonas Hoglund combined for 10 goals and nine assists in the series.
"It was the line they wanted to shut down and they were spectacular," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said.
"Thomas, Sundin and Berezin won the series for them," Martin added.
After Thomas' goal, Sundin tied it on the Leafs' next shot at 7:16 of the second when he picked up Thomas' redirected slapper in the left circle and put the puck into a partially vacant net for his third goal of the series.
Berezin added his third and the game-winner with 9:20 left in the period, skating from the bottom of left circle to the low slot for a rebound of Markov's shot and putting it past a fallen Barrasso.
"We felt less pressure when we made it 3-2," Thomas said. "We could feel the air come out of them."
Clark, who sat out the previous four games, scored the game's final goal with 73 seconds left in the second. Left alone at the right goalpost, he banged home Cory Cross' diagonal pass that worked its way off and through traffic.
"He is a very important member of the team," Quinn said of Clark. "His goal must have been like a stake in the heart."
"The fourth goal hurt us the most," Martin admitted. "At 3-2 we still had a good chance."
Kravchuk scored his only goal of the series 94 seconds after an Ottawa power play expired and 2:15 after Markov was hit in the side of the face with a slap shot to make it 2-0.
After being hit in the lip and nose, Markov had skated off the ice under his own power and returned moments later. Berard, a fellow defenseman, has not played since a career-threatening injury to his eye, which he almost lost.
"Please, no cameras. I look terrible," Markov said with a badly swollen top lip. "When it hit me I was a bit confused and a little sore. I never thought about not returning. It's a very important game."
Juneau scored his second goal in as many games 3:45 into the first, one-timing a bouncing rebound at the right hashmark past a diving Joseph to give Ottawa a 1-0 lead.
Joseph rebounded, stopping 29 of 30 shots over the final two periods to help the Leafs overcome a 38-24 shot disadvantage for the game. The winning team was outshot each time in the series.
The Senators failed to beat Joseph on any of their four power plays and finished the series just 2-for-22, even though they had a two-man advantage for 86 seconds early in the second period.
"The 5-on-3 could have beeen a demoralizer," Quinn said.
"Killing it gave us a little jump. The best penalty killer has to be your goalie, and he made some big saves."