To win or not to win ...

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:51 PM ET


 Maybe you remember the conflicts facing characters from high school English: Man versus man, man versus himself?

 I ask because the greatest obstacle facing the Maple Leafs is not the big, hard-skating Philadelphia Flyers.

 The Leafs' greatest hurdle is the little voice lurking inside each player that says: "Why bother? There's already enough pain in the world. Why go looking for more?"

 For the Maple Leafs, Game 6 tonight is also about Game 5 and yes, Game 7. Man versus man. Man versus himself.

 How the Leafs compartmentalize Sunday's Game 5 pistol-whipping in Philadelphia with the prospect of more punishment looming in Game 7 makes tonight such compelling theatre.

 If you know you are going to have your head handed back to you Thursday in Philadelphia, what could be more reasonable than a quiet, private "Thanks, I'll pass."

 Who wants Keith Primeau on the last change? Maybe Ed Belfour deserves to shower in hot water instead of cold Coke. Why win one game to set up what seems an unwinnable one?

 PRECEDENTS

 There are, after all, few precedents to illustrate the Leafs can realistically expect to win Game 7.

 The last Game 7 the Leafs won on the road came in 1993 when Nik Borschevsky beat Detroit.

 Never mind the loss of ultra-dependable defenceman Ken Klee to a knee injury and the withdrawal effects sure to be felt by his partner Tomas Kaberle.

 The Leafs have generally competed on the road but come home empty-handed. A 2-0 win in Ottawa on April 12 stands out as the club's only win in six post-season road tries. They have been outscored 18-8 away from home.

 Their collapse in a 7-2 loss on Sunday was so complete, so pervasive, from the awful game turned in by the club's best defence pairing of Bryan McCabe and Brian Leetch to a middling performance by Belfour, it seems impossible to conceive they could win in Philly.

 MIRACULOUS

 All that said, there remains, in every sporting event, every endeavour, the miraculous properties of belief.

 The Leafs are a veteran-laden outfit. Maybe what championships teach the Joe Nieuwendyks and the Gary Roberts and the Ed Belfours is the power of the moment. Nobody can make you stop playing but you.

 "I don't think they're thinking of Game 7 at this point," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said.

 "We know we need to get Game 7 under the circumstances but we have to take step one first. I guess in your heart, you say 'We can't win 7 so why win 6.' Jeez, what does that say? That sort of thinking bristles me. I just don't see that."

 "Doesn't matter if we lost 7-2 or 3-2 in overtime," Darcy Tucker said. "It was one hockey game and we lost it."

 "Mark Messier told me years ago," Tie Domi was saying, "don't think, just play."

 Best advice you can give, hardest there is to take.

 The Maple Leafs can only win one game tonight, but they must play like they can win two. It's a burden fit for a champion.

 The fight for self-determination, the conflict between staying in the present and quaking in the face of a dark future, the struggle between going on and giving up, all these things will be on display tonight, cleverly disguised as a hockey game.

 Makes you wonder if Shakespeare wore skates.


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