Belfour makes the difference for Leafs
It's late in the second period of a mid-January game between the Calgary Flames and the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Flames have owned the Leafs from the opening faceoff. They've out-shot Toronto by a 3-to-1 margin and are leading 2-1 when goalie Ed Belfour turns away Martin Gelinas and then makes a sprawling pad save on a rebound attempt by a charging Chris Clark.
Belfour's heroics save the Maple Leafs, who rally in the third period and squeeze out a 3-2 victory.
"The difference in the game was Ed Belfour," says Calgary head coach Darryl Sutter.
Sutter's not the first coach to marvel at how Belfour saved the proverbial bacon for the Maple Leafs.
To say Belfour has been spectacular is barely doing him justice. He's carried the Leafs on his back this season and if he feels burdened by his efforts, he hasn't shown any strain.
"I enjoy the pressure, I always have," Belfour says. "Every team I've been on has been expected to win and I relish that challenge."
Belfour was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star Team and there isn't a person in the NHL who could quibble with the selection.
Entering February, his 2.07 goals-against average was seventh best in the League for goalies that have appeared in 20 or more games. His .929 save percentage was third-best for those who appeared in 20 or more games.
Belfour was fourth in wins with 21 and third in shutouts with five. He was also on a 14-4-1-1 roll in his last 20 games. The 3-2 triumph against Calgary was the 385th victory of his career, tying Mike Vernon for seventh place on the all-time list. He also equaled last season's total by recording his 21st win.
Belfour has made five previous NHL All-Star Game appearances, three with the Chicago Blackhawks (1992, '93, '96) and two while a member of the Dallas Stars (1998, '99).
"He has always been one of the best goalies in the League. He is a proven commodity," says Leafs' captain Mats Sundin. "He's made some huge saves for us all season."
Belfour was No. 2 on the Leafs' pecking order for goalies when they went into the free-agent market this past summer. Curtis Joseph was atop their shopping list but when he fled to Detroit, the Leafs didn't hesitate a second to get Belfour's name on a contract.
Belfour knew he was walking into a hornet's nest, that replacing Joseph would not be easy, and that people had their doubts about him.
Aside from his 1999 Stanley Cup with Dallas, Belfour has two Vezina trophies as the League's best goaltender, although the last of those came in 1993. But his statistics last season were the worst of his NHL career. Belfour finished with a 21-27-11 record and an embarrassing .895 save percentage.