Spark, but no fire at all

AL STRACHAN

, Last Updated: 5:32 AM ET

It was late in the first period and the Maple Leafs were down 2-0.

They richly deserved their fate.

They bore no resemblance whatsoever to the high-flying team that had zipped over, under, around and through the Washington Capitals the night before.

There was little doubt that by the time they got to the dressing room, coach Paul Maurice would wake them up. But Darcy Tucker issued his own wakeup call two minutes early.

If there was one bright spot in the Leafs' performance last night, it was the manner in which Tucker took it upon himself to try to drag the team up by its bootstraps.

As hulking Boston defenceman Zdeno Chara closed in on a puck that had been dumped into the corner, Tucker narrowed the gap, put in a shoulder and knocked him flying.

Afterward, Tucker tried to play down the hit. "He was a little off balance," he said. Chara was more off balance when Tucker finished.

With the crowd roaring its approval, Tucker turned and skated toward the bench, only to get speared in the back of the leg by Andre Savard.

"That's par for the course for him" Tucker said. "I don't know where he was hiding after that. Under the bench, probably."

Tucker saw no need to debate the issue at the time. He swung around and flattened Savard with a cross-check to what charitably could be called the chest. Certainly it was what National Hockey League coaches would call the upper body. Very upper.

That upset Paul Mara, who took a run at Tucker and met a straight left as he came in. "I was pretty tired at the time," Tucker said, "but I really had no choice.

"When you hit a 250-pound guy and you're only 175 pounds, it takes two or three shifts out of you."

In the ensuing fight, Tucker was again giving away at least six inches, but he got in one good shot.

"One," Tucker said. "I was pretty tired. I don't think I could have hit any more after that. I don't think he hit me. I've got pretty long arms."

That's an attribute that sets him apart from most media people, but that's another story.

You can't accuse Tucker of picking his spots. Every one of the guys he tangled with is bigger than he is. Perhaps out of respect for that, referees Michael McGeough and Wes McCauley gave him a break.

Tucker easily could have been given an interference penalty for the hit on Chara who had not touched the puck. But Chara didn't complain. "It's hockey," he said. "You're going to get hit. I don't mind."

And the hit on Savard was a crosscheck. But when the smoke cleared, the Bruins were short handed as Mara got an extra two minutes for instigating.

At that point, the Leafs should have responded. Even though their designated sparkplug was sitting in the penalty box, they owed it to him to capitalize on the power play that he had earned them.

But story lines don't always work out as they should. If this were a movie script, they would have huddled and given each other the win-this-for-Darcy speech.

They would have come out and steamrolled the Bruins, the team with a road record that is ranked 23rd in the league.

BUMBLE ALONG

But instead, they continued to bumble along in somewhat lacklustre fashion. They awoke briefly in the third when Mats Sundin finished off a goalmouth scramble by poking the puck into an empty net.

But the flurry lasted only four minutes until Brad Boyes tucked one behind Raycroft to restore the two-goal lead.

Having a sparkplug is nice. But if no cylinders are working for most of the night, it doesn't matter much.


Videos

Photos