Friday, April 30, 2004

Sundin sets the pace

Toronto Maple Leaf captain Mats Sundin took the reins in game four and sent the Leafs back to Philadelphia tied at two games a piece in the best of seven eastern semi-final. Sundin scored the tying goal and the go ahead one in terrific display of determination Friday night at the Air Canada Centre. The Leafs besting the Flyers for the second game in a row, this time to a score of 3-1.

Simon Gagne gave the Flyers the lead at the seven minute mark as he converted a terrible turnover by Bryan McCabe in front of Ed Belfour, Gagne took the puck in the slot and put it home giving the Flyers an early one goal lead, but for Philly that would be all the scoring this night, as Belfour once again returned to his dominating form and the Leafs defence began to play with more stability.

Sundin then took charge of the game dashing down the left wing at the thirteen minute point and putting a shot into the corner behind Robert Esche. Sundin scored again at 7:45 of the second period, giving the Leafs the lead for good in a game where he dominated all facets of the play. Sundin won the key face-offs, made some terrific passes and scored the goals that made the difference, but for a goal post or wild clearing sweep he would have had a had trick on this Friday night. Darcy Tucker scored the insurance marker 2 minutes into the third period, sending the sell out crowd at the ACC off to celebrate.

A disturbing trend for the Flyers is the sudden vulnerability in the nets, as Robert Esche is beginning to give up goals that should be covered, he seems to be fighting the puck a bit too much now, out dueled again by Ed Belfour who made the key saves when required. Belfour faced 29 shots for his latest win; Esche had 31 shots to work on, giving up three of them as goals.

Once again penalty trouble was the demise of the Flyers who at one point took three consecutive penalties which tired out the penalty killers, the Flyers continued their trend of having terrible second periods. If anything has been the downfall of Philly in the playoffs it’s the inability to control the play in the second frame.

The Leafs weathered an anxious first half of the first period, but after Sundin’s first goal they seemed to regain the confidence they played with in game three. Friday’s game did not feature the massive body checks of game three, the Leafs out hit the Flyers again but the all inclusive nature of the physical play was not part of the play on Friday. Philadelphia had vowed to match the Leafs hit for hit, but when it came time to follow through they chose not to play a physical game. For Sundin it was true show of leadership as the big Swede moved into second place in all time Maple Leaf playoff scoring, his two goals is 67th and 68th points, moving him ahead of Dave Keon and behind only Doug Gilmour who has 77 points.

The teams return to Philadelphia to kick off what has now become a best of three final. Game five goes Sunday afternoon at 4pm EDT (1 pm PST). The Leafs will have to solve the riddle that is the Wachovia center, the Leafs have had a terrible time winning in Philly, but with the momentum on their side for now Game 5 would he as good as time as any to change their luck. The Leaf fans would love to take to the streets after Game six with another step completed on the way to the Stanley Cup.

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