Friday, May 10, 2002
Tie series leaves plenty of questions about Game 5
By Brian Engblom Special to ESPN.com
TORONTO -- The onus is back on the Ottawa Senators to re-establish their game in tonight's Game 5. They came out flat in Game 4 -- and the Toronto Maple Leafs flattened them even more to tie the series.
The Senators have faced little to no adversity in the playoffs since losing Game 1 of their first-round series against Philadelphia. They looked strong all series, even in their three-overtime loss in Game 3. They felt they had outplayed the Leafs, yet lost the game.
But now, Toronto has taken it to the Senators in Ottawa. The Leafs deserve a lot of credit for their gutsy effort and great job in Game 4. They played 60 minutes without any noticeable lapses. They stuck with the program and deserved the victory.
Winning Game 4 was a huge step for the Leafs. Not only did they pull even with Ottawa in series, but they also evened the series mentally. The Leafs are still hurting, with key players like Mats Sundin, Mikael Renberg and maybe both Jyrki Lumme and Karel Pilar out of the lineup, not to mention the season-ending injury to Dmitry Yushkevich. Nevertheless, Toronto has accomplished much already.
Going into tonight's game, the question will be about what kind of style will be played. The Leafs play with passion, especially at home; they have a 5-1 home record in the playoffs, the only loss coming against Ottawa. If the Leafs get revved up again and play at a high tempo, I think it favors Ottawa.
Will the Leafs be willing to start dumping the puck down the ice and taking a ton of faceoffs like they did so successfully in Game 4? The natives get restless in Toronto. The fans want the game to be played with energy and at a high pace. But I'm not sure that would be the best approach against the Senators, who will attempt to make a strong, up-tempo push.
The Senators are deadly when they get a lead, something Toronto knows. The Leafs can't afford to get down. Without a lead, Toronto won't automatically lose, but the odds go up exponentially because Ottawa is so effective playing with a lead. Toronto must do everything it can to play a strong first period and not give Ottawa any momentum. I'll be curious to see how the first five or six minutes are played and who has the edge. Ottawa will want the tempo and will try to get Toronto worked up.
The Leafs' penalty killing has improved after a horrible series against the Islanders. Still, 15 of the 28 goals Toronto has allowed in the playoffs have come on the other team's power play.
But since Game 1, when they allowed three power-play goals, the Leafs have stopped seven of Ottawa's eight power-play opportunities over the last three games, while only scoring one power play the entire series. The Leafs need to clean up their overall special teams in order to go any further in the playoffs.
On an even more positive note for Toronto, Curtis Joseph seems to have his game back, coming off two strong games. As an emotional goaltender, CuJo is typically stellar at home. He gets himself ready to play and relishes the heat and the attention. I expect him to be great again tonight on his home ice.
Meanwhile, Patrick Lalime's performance was more a product of the Senators playing poorly than it was his own effort. At the same time, he could have suffered a mental lapse or could have been fatigued. Maybe he and the Senators were just due for an off game.
Lalime is susceptible when he starts flopping around, and Toronto knows that. The Leafs will try to go upstairs on him. Most of Toronto's goals against Lalime have come when he was down on the ice and the puck was flipped over him. The Leafs will continue to swarm the net, get him on the ice and go after loose pucks.
The burden is on Lalime. We know CuJo will play at a high level at home. Lalime must at least match him.
Former NHL defenseman Brian Engblom, who won three Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens, is a hockey analyst for ESPN.