Thursday, April 29, 2004

Leafs deliver a message

Everybody seemed to make a hit on Wednesday night, from Mogilny to McCabe. Domi to Leetch, the bodies were flying and with the increased physical attention came some scoring opportunities for the Leafs. Opportunities that they took advantage of sending the Flyers a message that any thoughts of a four game sweep should be put away, smash mouth hockey was back at the ACC. In a highly entertaining fast paced game the Leafs announced that they were back with a commanding 4-1 defeat of the Philadelphia Flyers. Bringing the Leafs back to within one game of the Flyers in the best of seven series, the Flyers holding a 2 game to 1 lead.

Toronto set the pace in Game three as they delivered body check after body check on a suddenly very undisciplined Philadelphia team. Finally able to get some bodies in front of Robert Esche the Leafs found that he can’t stop what he doesn’t see. With Esche looking quite shaky at times, the Leafs capitalized on rebounds and sloppy defence. Four different Leafs got goals on Wednesday night a veritable scoring binge compared to their efforts of the past few games. Toronto fired 29 shots at the embattled Esche who must have been wondering where his defence had gone in game three. Alexander Mogilny, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Chad Kilger and Darcy Tucker found enough space to score on Esche, Tony Amonte claiming the only goal for Philly.

The insertion of Wade Belak seemed to set the tone for the night as his line of Ponikarovsky and Antropov seemed to shut down the Flyers trio of Primeau, Gagne and Brashear. The Leafs who played the fore-check in fine style, controlled a lot of the play in this game crashing a Flyer every time they got close to a puck. The domination by the Leafs was backed up by a return to form of Eddie Belfour who faced a rather easy game, tossing aside 18 of the 19 shots directed his way. Another change that paid off dividends was the insertion of Alexander Mogilny on the first line with Mats Sundin and Gary Roberts, Mogilny took advantage of his elevation to inspire his team mates with some crushing hits and put some points on the board as well. The Flyers were so fixated on Mogilny that by the end of the game they were taking undisciplined runs at the Leaf, putting them deeper and deeper into the hole they had created for themselves.

The night featured the kind of performance that Pat Quinn had challenged his team to come up with after losing the first two games in Philadelphia. Flyer coach Ken Hitchcock put it best when he said that the Flyers’ level of intensity dropped while the Leafs went up, which made the difference in Game three.

Quinn will want to play a tape of the game over and over again on the day off Thursday, keeping his troops motivated for Game Four on Friday. For Hitchcock he’ll need to remind his players to focus on the job at hand, they’re not going to beat the Leafs while sitting in the penalty box. Giving up as much of the ice to Toronto as they did Wednesday will only bring them more of the same on Friday. Letting Toronto carry the physical game to them is only a recipe for a seven game series.

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