December 16, 2005
TORONTO (CP) -- Wade Belak pulled the puck to his forehand and roofed it behind Eddie Belfour, and then he beat Belfour by fooling him with a forehand deke.
Belak looked like an all-star during the shootout drill, but it was only practice, and Belfour's status was much more important to the Toronto Maple Leafs than anything the seldom-used Belak was up to.
Belfour, who had a sore groin muscle after a loss to Dallas last Saturday, sat while backup Mikael Tellqvist stopped 27 Anaheim shots in a 3-2 win Monday and also sat out practice Tuesday.
There was concern he might miss the Saturday showdown with the Senators in Ottawa (CBC, 7 p.m. ET), but he said after a full workout Thursday that he was good to go.
"It was a good practice -- high tempo, and no problems,'' said Belfour. "I didn't feel anything, so that's a positive.
"At the end we did the breakaways and for a groin that's a lot of stress. It was a good test for it.''
Belfour is eager face an Ottawa club that bombed him last time he faced Daniel Alfredsson and Co. On Oct. 29 at Air Canada Centre, the Senators won 8-0, chasing Belfour from the nets after he'd allowed five goals on 15 shots.
"I haven't had my best against them,'' said Belfour. "Hopefully we can come out flying and win the game.''
They'll probably fly without forwards Eric Lindros, who has ligament damage in his right wrist, and Nik Antropov, who has an unspecified lower body injury. Both are doubtful starters, said head coach Pat Quinn.
Ottawa has won all three meetings this season -- the first two in shootouts, and then the blowout.
"It's the biggest game of the year for us,'' said Leafs captain Mats Sundin. "We'll be playing a team that arguably has been the hottest team in our conference since the start of the season.
"It's a great test for us going into their building. It's a place where we've struggled at times during the regular season. It's a great test for our team to see where we stand.''
Toronto, 16-12-3, is eighth in the NHL's Eastern Conference. In first place is Ottawa, 22-4-2 before hosting Dallas on Thursday night. The Senators were 11 points ahead of the Leafs before playing the Stars, and that disparity and the 8-0 fiasco could create the impression Saturday might be a mismatch.
The Leafs aren't looking at it that way.
"We have to have some conviction in our game,'' said Darcy Tucker. "Playing a team like that, they're going to come in waves and we have to match that intensity and match their passion for scoring goals.
"We have to skate stride for stride with them.''
The Oct. 29 result is ancient history, said rookie Alexander Steen.
"That game is a long time ago so it's definitely nothing we're thinking about now,'' he said. "We've been doing good the last couple of games.
"We'll bring up our work ethic and turn it up a couple of notches and I think we'll be fine.''
Jason Allison and Tie Domi were too sore to practice and Carlo Colaiacovo stayed home with the flu. Quinn hopes they'll be ready Saturday.
Beginning in Ottawa, the Leafs play eight games in 15 days to the end of the month. Their hold on the eighth and final playoff qualifying spot in the East is precarious. If they falter in this stretch, GM John Ferguson might be forced to make moves.