by Joe Bowen
TORONTO -- As the Toronto Maple Leafs hurtle themselves towards an almost assured third straight postseason meeting with the Ottawa Senators, it seems rather ironic that these two Ontario teams will renew their rivalry despite their best efforts not to.
The Leafs have dismissed the Senators in the last two opening rounds, turfing them last year in four straight games even after stumbling down the final stretch to the regular season finish line.
| Shayne Corson was the key to stopping Alexei Yashin last year in the playoffs. |
Graig Abel Photography
They even lost the final game of the regular season in Ottawa despite the Sens depleted lineup. But then Shayne Corson went to work on Alexei Yashin and Toronto rode the excellent goalkeeping of Curtis Joseph, some timely scoring and overtime heroics to four consecutive wins.
While the Leafs success over Ottawa is well documented so is their ultimate demise at the hands of the New Jersey Devils. In fact over the last two seasons almost all of the Leafs roster moves have been made with one thing in mind -- how to improve enough to get by the Devils.
With that in mind the Leafs failed to win a game against the Devils in the regular season this year, and have beaten the Senators only once in four meetings heading into the final regular season game in our nation's capital on April 13.
Much will be made of the Senators horrible story in previous postseason efforts, although they managed to get rid of the scapegoat when Yashin was sent packing. Bill Muckalt and Zdeno Chara will try to make people in Ottawa forget about Yashin and his postseason vanishing act.
As far as the Leafs are concerned, the stretch drive has been more of an effort to keep their heads above water. Injuries to No. 1 one goalie Curtis Joseph, rock solid defenceman Dmitry Yushkevich, power forward Gary Roberts, workaholic Mikael Renberg, veteran defenceman Jyrki Lumme and newly acquired goalkeeper Tom Barrasso.
The most important people currently employed by the Leafs are the team doctors and therapists Chris Broadhurt and Brent Smith. The makeup of the Leaf postseason roster should be much different than the patchwork unit that has been holding its own down the stretch.
If the Leafs get all of their walking wounded back healthy for the postseason this team has a better than average chance of advancing deep into the playoffs. The team's depth has been tested with the injuries and has passed with excellent marks mainly due to the play of farmhands Karel Pilar and Paul Healey as well as backup netminder Corey Schwab.
The experience obtained due to the injuries will benefit the Leafs a great deal in the playoffs where it really becomes a war of attrition with the ultimate winner being the last team standing.
This Leaf team is the most talented and the deepest unit I have been associated with in the 20 years that I have had the privilege to broadcasting games. There are certainly no guarantees in the Stanley Cup playoffs but I am very confident that this group has what it takes to go a long ways into the spring.