For the Toronto Maple Leafs to be successful come playoff time, the team's impact players must do just that.
Curtis Joseph, Mats Sundin and Alex Mogilny made that kind of impression Saturday night as the Leafs dropped Chicago 4-1, to sweep their home-and-home series.
Just 24 hours earlier, Sundin and Mogilny paced Toronto to a 2-1 road victory, including a goal each while Joseph shut the door late.
The Leafs' captain netted a late goal in the rematch and set up the game-winner. Mogilny came away with beautiful assist but both player's contributions meant more than just getting on the score sheet.
With two important offensive players buzzing at the same time, Chicago was concentrating on shutting them down, which opened holes for others. That combined with a five-minute power play --courtesy of Bob Probert-- in the second, was more than the Blackhawks could handle as they stretched their winless streak to nine.
The Leafs managed their first power-play goal in seven opportunities against the Blackhawks and it was worth the wait. Mogilny sent a pass through Jocelyn Thibault's crease right on the tape to Darcy Tucker, who banged home his seventh goal of the season.
"It was one of those great plays," head coach Pat Quinn said. "It was a great read by Mogilny, and just one of the things good athletes do."
Watching Mogilny handle the puck, you get the feeling he is ready to break out of his funk. Quinn believes Mogilny and Sundin may have had more jump the last two games because of the media scrutiny surrounding ice time.
"There's been a focus on them because of the discussion (in the media) over the last week and half about ice time. There's a lot of focus on what they do and what they don't do, for those two particular guys," Quinn said.
"They are both marvelous athletes and we expect a lot out of both of them and we will continue to do that. Mats has been playing very well. Alex, in his last several games, has also been very dangerous."
With Mogilny and Sundin having strong games, it's easy to forget that Joseph is constantly improving after what was considered a slow start by his standards.
The veteran goalie's services were needed early in the first after Kyle Calder was hauled down on a breakaway. Referee Terry Gregson deemed the offense worthy of a penalty shot, much to the crowd's dismay but Joseph was there to stop his third in four calls this year.
As to why the Leafs have been on the wrong end of so many calls is something of a mystery.
"I thought tonight it was a tough call, I don't know if that was a penalty shot but we have Curtis," Sundin said. "Half of the teams don't even have to look because they know he is going to stop it. It seems like he thrives off of that (penalty shots)."
Even more odd is that the Leafs are 4-0 when a penalty shot is called against them. Joseph was unaware of the stat but he did believe that there could be something to all the extra penalty-shot calls.
"Oh jeez, we're going to have to start wishing for them," Joseph said with a chuckle. "We're in the entertainment business and it's the most exciting play in hockey and I think they (the league) are going to run with it a little bit."
Joseph's experience could pay off if he is selected as a member of the Canadian Olympic team. During the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Canada lost in the semi-finals via a shootout with the Czechs.
If the big three --Sundin, Mogilny and Joseph-- continue to make improvements in their given roles with the Leafs, Toronto won't be squeaking into the playoffs in 2002.