April 25, 2004
GAME: Maple Leafs at Flyers.
PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference semifinals; Flyers lead 1-0.
TIME: Sunday, 7 p.m. EDT.
The Toronto Maple Leafs clearly weren't at their best in the opening game of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Philadelphia Flyers don't believe they were either.
Hoping an extra day of rest will prove beneficial, the Maple Leafs look to even this series at one game apiece when the teams meet at the Wachovia Center.
Judging by their performance in a series-opening 3-1 loss Thursday, the Maple Leafs were obviously still feeling the effects of a seven-game series against rival Ottawa in the quarterfinals.
Playing on one day of rest, Toronto was outshot 11-3 in the first period, missed several defensive assignments and was unable to continue its usual abrasive style.
Most importantly, Ed Belfour, who recorded three shutouts in the first round, wasn't on top of his game, allowing three goals on 26 shots.
In five games against the Flyers this season, Belfour is 1-4 while allowing 19 goals on 112 shots.
Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn believes having two days off between Games 1 and 2 will benefit his team.
"It's something that allows some physical rest and bruises to heal," Quinn said. "The mental rest, you need that, too. Trying to be on top of your game every second night takes a toll. We needed the rest."
What Quinn and the rest of the Maple Leafs would like most would be for captain Mats Sundin to return for Game 2. Sundin, who has missed five straight games with a leg injury, looked good in practice Saturday.
"Certainly, the way it feels right now, I'll be back for this series for sure," Sundin said. "It feels a lot better."
Sundin will decide whether he can play in Game 2 after Sunday's morning skate.
"It's a huge improvement in the last three or four days," he said.
Having Sundin in the lineup is even more important because center Joe Nieuwendyk is expected to sit out Sunday with an undisclosed injury. Nieuwendyk, the team leader with five playoff goals, missed Game 4 against Ottawa with a back injury.
Quinn said Nieuwendyk played hurt in Game 1.
"He shouldn't have been playing," Quinn said. "We could see that his play wasn't where it needed to be and where it has been. It probably wasn't a good idea that he played, and eventually he had to pull himself."
As they did in the opening round against defending Stanley Cup champion New Jersey, the Flyers scored first in Game 1, maintained their discipline throughout and received strong goaltending from Robert Esche.
Marcus Ragnarsson snapped a second-period tie and Simon Gagne scored an insurance goal in the third as Philadelphia improved to 5-1 in the postseason.
Despite the Flyers' solid performance in the opener, captain Keith Primeau knows his team will need to be better in Game 2.
"As a group, we know we are capable of playing better," Primeau said. "And we are going to have to if we are going to beat this team."
These teams met in a grueling and often nasty first-round matchup last season that amounted to the equivalent of nine games - seven games and seven overtimes. Game 1 of this series wasn't as physical, but that style figures to pick up Sunday when Toronto will be much fresher.
Tony Amonte's goal at 7:14 of the first period staked the Flyers to a 1-0 lead Thursday, marking the sixth time in six playoff games that Philadelphia has scored first.
Getting an early lead is very important for Philadelphia because Esche is quickly making a name for himself this postseason. Since a 4-2 loss at New Jersey in Game 3 of the quarterfinals, Esche has stopped 88 of 90 shots in the past three games.
Because Esche had just one game of playoff experience before this year, goaltending was again a concern for the Flyers. With a 1.67 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage in six games, Esche has proven that he is capable of leading the Flyers deep into the postseason.
"Our feeling is that even if the game is tied, Esche is going to hang in there and give us a chance to win," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said. "If you look at the teams that have won championships the last 10 years, the common denominator is that they have played long minutes either with a one-goal lead or with the score tied, and they found a way not to crack."
While Toronto hopes to get Sundin back for Game 2, Philadelphia would like to see defenceman Kim Johnsson return Sunday. Johnsson missed Game 1 with a broken bone in his right hand.
"I'm trying to get ready as fast as I can," Johnsson said. "It's just about holding the stick. It's getting better."
The series shifts to Toronto for Game 3 on Wednesday.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Maple Leafs - 4th seed; beat Ottawa Senators 4-3, quarterfinals. Flyers - 3rd seed; beat New Jersey Devils 4-1, quarterfinals
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Maple Leafs - Nieuwendyk, 5 goals; Brian Leetch, 5 assists; Bryan McCabe, Nieuwendyk and Leetch, 5 points; Tie Domi, 15 PIM. Flyers - Alex Zhamnov, 3 goals and 9 points; Zhamnov and Jeremy Roenick, 6 assists, Sami Kapanen and Primeau, 6 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Maple Leafs - Power play: 11.8 percent (4 for 34). Penalty killing: 92.1 percent (35 for 38). Flyers - Power play: 26.7 percent (4 for 15). Penalty killing: 85.0 percent (17 for 20).
GOALTENDERS: Maple Leafs - Belfour (4-4, 3 SO, 1.68 GAA); Trevor Kidd (no appearances). Flyers - Esche (5-1, 1, 1.67); Sean Burke (no appearances)
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Flyers, 3-1. The Flyers won the first three meetings by a combined 15-2 score before the Leafs won 3-2 at Philadelphia on March 18. Michal Handzus had three goals and three assists, while John LeClair had two goals and three assists against Toronto. Leetch had four goals and six points in five games, but four of those games came while he was with the New York Rangers.
-- Associated Press