Monday, April 12, 2004

Can't Beat Belfour

One hundred and thirty eight minutes, twenty one seconds have gone by since the Ottawa Senators have introduced the puck to the back of a Toronto Maple Leaf net. And as goes Ed Belfour, so go the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey team. Once again Belfour stymied an Ottawa attack that totally controlled the play, shot after shot directed at the Toronto Goaltender, none getting by the Leaf veteran.

Ottawa fired 37 shots at Belfour Monday night, once again shut out completely as the Maple Leafs for the second game in a row took the win despite an Ottawa attack that at times seemed to overwhelm the Blue and White. The first period of Monday’s game featured a smothering attack in the Leaf end of the rink. Senator after Senator bouncing the puck off the boards into the slot, passing through the crease, or blasting from the point, only to have Belfour conjure up another save.

The odd foray down the ice into the Ottawa rink only used as a breather for Belfour, for as quickly as the puck would approach Patrick Lalime the Ottawa defense would turn it around and head back down the ice. But eventually the Senators inability to score came back to haunt them. Watching the first period end in a zero-zero draw, you sensed that it was only a matter of time before the Leafs got that all important first goal. Belfour was once again in that zone, and the longer this game would go on without an Ottawa goal the less likely it seemed that one was about to come.

The way Belfour was holding the fort, this was the kind of game you knew would be over if the Leafs got a goal. And an Ottawa miscue in its own end of the rink would give the Leafs for good in the second period. Ottawa defenders fell asleep in front of Lalime, leaving Joe Nieuwendyk alone in the high slot, a booming shot took advantage of that defensive breakdown and the Leafs were ahead 1-0. Lalime only faced 17 shots in the game, playing ok but not in the same category as Belfour. He had no chance on the Nieuwendyk goal, but by letting it go in the mood at the Ottawa bench seemed to change, as though they knew that the one goal might be all that was required on this night.

Ottawa had countless chances through the rest of the game, open nets wide and inviting somehow missed, posts hit flush the rebounds going harmlessly aside. A flying Marian Hossa denied time and time again by the frantic Belfour who must have left Hossa beside himself with his many denials. Toronto captain Mats Sundin who was booed with feeling all game long, silenced the crowd for good with five minutes to go in the game. When he scored the second and final goal of the night, giving the Leafs a 2-0 lead.

The Senators now trail the series 2-1 with game four coming up on Wednesday night. 75 shots have gone by since the Sens have scored, in order to get things back on track they need to find a way to turn some of the shots to come into goals. Traffic in front of Belfour might be an approach, the lanes in front of the Toronto goaltender have been clearer than the Queensway on a holiday Monday morning. Unless the Sens can get up close and hinder his vision he’ll be making the save every time. Now tied with Turk Broda for sixth place on the all time shutout list, one wonders how far up the list Belfour may end up going. The Senators will be hoping to end his journey up the list on Wednesday night.

No comments: