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2 TORONTO Maple Leafs
Kostya Kennedy
October 16, 2000
April 22, 2000: The Maple Leafs trail Ottawa 1-0 in the third period of Game 5 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series that is tied at two games apiece. All night Toronto coach Pat Quinn has been urging his team to bully its way to the Senators' net. Yet the Leafs forwards—mostly finesse players who thrive by skating around defenders, not through them—appear unwilling, or unable, to do Quinn's bidding.
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October 16, 2000

2 Toronto Maple Leafs

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Insider

CATEGORY

SI RANKING

SKINNY

FORWARDS

7

They have it all: speed, grit and skill

DEFENSE

9

Must reduce second-chance opportunities

GOALTENDING

2

Joseph thrives when he faces lots of shots

SPECIAL TEAMS

13

Penalty killing (20th last season) needs upgrade

MANAGEMENT

7

Quinn is one of most respected minds in the game

April 22, 2000: The Maple Leafs trail Ottawa 1-0 in the third period of Game 5 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series that is tied at two games apiece. All night Toronto coach Pat Quinn has been urging his team to bully its way to the Senators' net. Yet the Leafs forwards—mostly finesse players who thrive by skating around defenders, not through them—appear unwilling, or unable, to do Quinn's bidding.

Suddenly left wing Darcy Tucker comes thundering into the Ottawa zone. He brushes off a check and follows the puck to the goalmouth, where he wallops netminder Tom Barrasso. The brazen hit transforms the game and the series. Ottawa's defensemen begin to skate warily and, with Tucker leading the way, the emboldened Leafs tie the match, win it in overtime and then take Game 6. Says Tucker, "That's how I make my living."

Quinn, who is also Toronto's general manager, knew just that when he acquired Tucker from the Lightning last February. The move was a wise first attempt to fine-tune Toronto's sleek scoring machine for the playoffs. The Leafs, who played a high-speed, risk-taking style, had six players score at least 18 goals last season, more than on any other club in the Eastern Conference. All told, the team scored 246 goals, second most in the conference, and the offensive creativity carried them to the Northeast tide. The style, however, depends on finding open ice and in the postseason, Quinn points out, "there's a lot of traffic on the ice. You need guys who'll fight through it."

At 5'10" and 179 pounds, Tucker fights through more on audacity than power. In last year's conference semifinals against the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Devils, his repeated run-ins with goalie Martin Brodeur helped the Leafs win two games. Otherwise, Toronto proved bootless against New Jersey's muscle.

No team addressed its needs in the off-season better than Toronto. Quinn answered the club's lack of toughness by signing free-agent left wings Gary Roberts and Shayne Corson, two of the NHL's most courageous physical presences. Roberts, 34, plays an even more hellbent style than he did before missing the 1996-97 season after having neck surgery. Corson, 34, was the Canadiens' most unyielding scrapper the past two years. "These guys bat-de for loose pucks, and they're never afraid to push to the net," says center Mats Sundin. "That's the element we've been missing."

Sundin, 29, is the star around which nimble wingers such as Sergei Berezin, Igor Korolev and Dimitri Khristich revolve. The Leafs also send out an extremely mobile defense in front of unflappable goalie Curtis Joseph (36-20-7 with a .915 save percentage); the signing of raging veteran Dave Manson, who allegedly bit the thumb of Wings forward Martin Lapointe in a preseason game, adds needed teeth to the blue line.

No one is more hopped up about the changes than Tucker, who primes himself for games by downing a mixture of Coca-Cola and coffee. He is one of several Leafs who believe the club now has a chance to win it all. "Teams that play for the Cup have a dimension of speed," says Tucker, "but also a dimension of grit."

This year Toronto has plenty of both.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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