Leafs are heading home in a big hole

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 4:40 PM ET


 The Maple Leafs thought justice in this series would even out last night, but they didn't have these equations in mind:

 - Mats Sundin came back in dramatic fashion from a leg injury, but leading playoff scorer Joe Nieuwendyk was out.

 - Tough guy Tie Domi scored a career high second goal in the same playoff year; Donald Brashear gets one for the Philadelphia Flyers.

 - The Flyers, after years without consistent playoff goaltending, finally find Robert Esche just in time to face the Leafs.

 It added up to a 2-1 Flyers win last night, marking the first time in 19 playoff series the Leafs have fallen behind 2-0 in a best of seven set going back to the comeback win over the Detroit Red Wings in 1993.

 GOOD PLAY

 "I don't like going home down two," coach Pat Quinn said, though his more-rested team was much better than Game 1. "We had a lot of good play from people (the Flyers had one second-period shot), but it wasn't good enough."

 After four games to rest a leg muscle injury, Sundin came out with gusto on a line with Gary Roberts and Darcy Tucker. He generated an early scoring chance and perfectly set up Clarke Wilm for a foiled late game breakaway.

 "I felt a little rusty after being off 10 days, but other than that it was good," Sundin said. "As the game went on, I felt better.

 "It's such a fine line now between winning and losing in the playoffs. Both games we've had good efforts, now we have to take that home with us. We have to get better with our power play and get some traffic in front of Esche. We have a great goalie in Eddie Belfour. We just have to take a little out of their book and go to the net."

 Quinn called Sundin's return "an inspiration", noting he fought through top Flyers checker Keith Primeau.

 "What we need is some finish," Quinn said of getting just one goal in each of the past playoff games at the Wachovia Center. "If we can't find ways, we have to make them. The two goals we've had in this series came from guys going to the net."

 Esche looked a bit like the volcanic Belfour when he smacked Chad Kilger for infringing on his territory. Asked if his goalie's behaviour worried him, Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said "after last year?" -- meaning he prefers Esche's 6-1 record to the erratic Roman Cechmanek.

 "Eddie is a terrific goalie," Esche said. "I don't look at me as out-playing anybody."

 Both Wilm and Alex Mogilny thought they had solved Esche, though it took Domi roaring to the net to tip in a Wilm pass to make the difference. Quinn was upset that Alexei Zhamnov's winning goal was "surprisingly easy" as he moved in from a tight angle to find the five-hole at 8:25 of the third, late in a penalty kill. Brashear's goal also was on a power play.

 The series now takes another two-day hiatus, before resuming at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday as the Leafs try to avoid a second consecutive elimination by the Flyers.

 The line of Wilm, Domi and Robert Reichel had a strong game, until Wilm missed Mark Recchi with an open ice hit and Reichel was forced to tackle him, leading to Zhamnov's goal.

 "I was coming off the bench and he came right at me," Wilm said. "He's too shifty a player for that."

 The one-on-one battles heated up last night, particularly in the crease. Roberts and ex-Leaf defenceman Danny Markov dueled, but the Flyers are still without injured first and second defencemen Eric Desjardins and Kim Johnsson.

 "We have to keep doing the things we did well, getting the puck behind their defence," Roberts said. "Getting pucks in front of their net will get us back in this. It will be a long series. We know the ACC will be rockin'."

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 TURNING POINT

 - With less than four minutes left in the game, Mats Sundin's nifty backhand pass found Clarke Wilm breaking in all alone on Philadelphia Flyers goalie Robert Esche. Not only did Esche make the save to preserve Philly's one-goal lead, he stopped the rebound during a mad scramble at the edge of the crease.


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