Leafs' goal is clear

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:20 PM ET


 The Philadelphia Flyers have been riding the excellent goaltending of Robert Esche and now Tie Domi simply wants the leather-lungs at the Air Canada Centre to ride the 26-year-old netminder.

 "We would like our fans to be ready to roar and get on their goalie," Domi said. "I think that's important. The fans are a big asset for us. Their fans were all over Eddie (Belfour) and it's important for our fans to get all over Esche early."

 Oh, if only it was that easy for the Maple Leafs, who absolutely have to win tonight in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semi-final against the Flyers. There's more to worry about than Esche, who has allowed just one goal in each of the first two games of the series.

 How about getting more pressure on the depleted Flyers defence corps, which has been missing Eric Desjardins and Kim Johnsson? The latter could return tonight from a broken bone in his right hand, but even if he does the Leafs have to improve their exploitation of the Flyers' back end.

 To that end, coach Pat Quinn had Alex Mogilny, who has one goal in nine playoff games -- and that was off someone else's skate -- back on the top line with Mats Sundin and Gary Roberts at practice yesterday. Domi, who arguably has been the Leafs' most consistent forward during the playoffs, moved up to take Mogilny's place on a line with Ron Francis and Chad Kilger. Quinn again had big Wade Belak skating with fellow giants Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov, but he did the same in practice prior to Game 2 and Belak wound up sitting out. Clarke Wilm, who was good in Game 2, was on a line with Black Aces Matt Stajan and Nathan Perrott.

 There's an increased chance Belak will play tonight because the Leafs have to put more beef in front of Esche.

 "They would be three that would be expected to have some presence around the net," Quinn said of Belak, Antropov and Ponikarovsky. "They have to bring the puck with them and hopefully they can do that."

 Centre Joe Nieuwendyk didn't skate again yesterday and there's almost no chance he will play tonight thanks to recurring back problems.

 The only other Leaf who did not skate yesterday was defenceman Bryan McCabe, who was walking with a slight limp after blocking a shot in Game 2.

 "I'm fine and I'll be playing (tonight)," McCabe said. "It's nothing serious. I just took a couple of days off. I'll be normal."

 Despite the odds that are stacked high against them, the Leafs were not an overly concerned bunch yesterday. There's no denying they know the desperation of their situation. But because it's such an experienced group in the Leafs dressing room, if they're chewing their fingernails it's being done behind closed doors.

 "There is a calmness in the locker-room right now," defenceman Brian Leetch said. "There's no panic or despair. We know the position we're in and we know how important this game is."


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