Sunday, April 18, 2004

SENSational Sixth

You couldn’t ask for a better ending to game six than what the Sens and Leafs gave hockey fans on Sunday night. Well ok, if you’re a Sens fan, then having them score on the many opportunities in the second or third, would have been helpful in keeping the blood pressure in check, salting away the win before the end of third buzzer a much more sensible way to do things. If you’re a Leaf fan, you probably were wishing that Tie Domi was down the ice just a little bit further, Domi was in on many of the shots in the final period not to mention both overtimes, but never really fired a dangerous bullet at Patrick Lalime.

But if you’re just a fan of good hard hitting, action packed hockey then Double Overtime on a Sunday in mid April is just about as good as it gets. The Sens and Leafs put on a show at the Corel Center and the only sad thing about it is, that we’re one game closer to the end of the latest edition of the Battle of Ontario.

Penalties played their part at the start of game six, as the Sens quickly found themselves two men short after just two minutes, as both Peter Bondra and Greg de Vries sat in the box watching the Maple Leaf power play work the 5 on 3 advantage. And at 4:14 of the first the Maple Leafs were up 1-0 on the strength of a Brian McCabe goal that went in off the skate of Brian Pothier and into the Sens net. From then on it seemed like all Senators as wave after wave approached Ed Belfour only to be turned aside once again.

Game six began to take on the appearance of Games 2, 3 and 5, as Belfour made save after save after save. Posts were hit, shots whistled wide and through the crease but none went by the Toronto goaltender neither in the 1st nor in the 2nd. It took Zdeno Chara to change the scoreboard in the third as he jumped into the play and took the puck around the Leafs net firing a shot from a side angle which caught the short side of goal. The Sens tied things up at 4:14 of the third and the manic play would then grow even more desperate.

The Leafs were content to just dump the puck into the Ottawa end and go chase it, hoping to capitalize on a miscue, intercept an errant pass or just bang a body off the puck. A couple of times that strategy came dangerously close to working as Ottawa would have bursts of energy for four or five minutes and then collapse into shoddy play in their own, only to turn it back on a few minutes later. That scenario would continue through the end of the third and into all of the first overtime. Rested up to a fashion after the first extra frame, the Sens got the jump again in the second overtime, taking the play to the Leaf end right from the puck drop they crashed over the Leaf blue line. The winning goal coming at 1:47 of the second extra period as Antoine Vermette popped a pass through the goal crease, picked up by Mike Fisher and put into the back of the Leaf net good for the 2-1 win and good enough to book the trip to Toronto for a game seven showdown on Tuesday night.

Ottawa fans may not want to admit it but the Leafs were a gutsy bunch on this Sunday night. Despite injuries to a number of key players, they never seemed to let down. The Leafs had a number of chances in both overtimes and could have sent the Sens packing for the summer on any number of times, but it wasn't meant to be in game six. As Patrick Lalime rose to the occasion and stonewalled the Leafs through the regulation and extra periods. Lalime handled 28 Maple Leaf shots, making a few incredible saves to keep the Buds from getting more than a point ahead during the game.

But again it was Belfour who made the difference the Sens fired 46 shots at the Eagle through the four and a bit periods of play, Belfour once again was outstanding in the Leaf’s net, single handedly keeping them in the game until the very end. The Senators win ruined his bid to become the NHL record holder for shutouts in one series, heading into Sunday’s game Beflour had recorded three shut outs, one away from the record books.

He has one more chance to state his case on Tuesday, but don’t look for the Sens to be helpful, coming out fast and hitting the Leafs in their own end, will no doubt be the recipe for the deciding game. If Ottawa can continue the incredible pace they have developed in the first six games, then Eddie won’t be in the record books this year. But if he gets a little help from his defence and the front lines then anything is possible, it will just be part of the background to a Game 7 that should be a dandy.

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