by John McCauley
February 4, 2006
(TORONTO) -- 24 hours after being outworked by the Washington Capitals, the Maple Leafs employed a yeoman-like first period effort of their own.
Fortunately for the Leafs those 20 minutes was just enough to blaze a path to a 4-2 victory over the hot New Jersey Devils, Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.
The line of Alexei Ponikarovsky, Nik Antropov and Jason Allison provided the offence and Ed Belfour bailed them out stopping 36 shots -- including a penalty shot -- to end the team's three-game home losing streak.
The trio combined for five first period points, including two goals from Ponikarovsky and two assists from Allison's stick.
Their first tally set the tone for the first period, coming just 33 seconds into the opening frame. Not only did they have an impressive showing on the scoresheet but they also could have had more. Ponikarovsky narrowly missed his Hat Trick, ringing a shot from the slot off the post.
The 3-0 first period lead was very reminiscent of the first period they played against the Phoenix Coyotes back on January 14th, when a strong forecheck resulted in plenty of puck possession and that same 3-0 lead. Unfortunately for the Leafs the rest of the game was fairly similar as well, playing back on their heels and not taking any initiative to get that important fourth goal. The Leafs eventually lost that one 4-3.
The change in momentum started at the end of the first period and continued throughout the game. Ed Belfour was spectacular holding his team in it. He stoned Victor Kozlov on a second-period penalty shot when he just got his blocker out in time to stop the deke.
However, two quick third period goals had lumps in the throats of the 19,000-plus fans, but an emptynetter by Chad Kilger sent then home happy.
"Almost like the Phoenix game we all of a sudden had a hockey game," said coach Pat Quinn. "Not letting that third one in was big. To me it was Eddie at his best. He was mentally strong."
Quinn couldn't put his finger on exactly why his team sat back with the lead but he knew where the trouble began.
"It started with our turnovers. If you want to get sloppy and fool around they will take advantage of it," said Quinn.
The coach also made the last minute coaching decision to scratch Jeff O'Neill from lineup and insert Mariusz Czerkawski. Wade Belak also played on D for the first time since the beginning of the season.
"It was a decision we made not lightly," said Quinn. "We could have really taken three or four fellows out. You hope it has a positive effect."
On the injury front don't expect much to change in Leafsland. None of Aki Berg, Alexei Khavanov, Ken Klee, Carlo Coloiacovo or Eric Lindros will return before the Olympics. Toronto has to bunker down with three important tilts before the Games begin.
"The bottomline is we need points. It wasn't artistic by any means," said Quinn.