Why was Belfour left to fend for himself?

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:07 PM ET


 Long after the last of his teammates had gone, Ed Belfour stood alone in the Maple Leafs dressing room, just the way his teammates had left him most of the night.

 He was still soaking wet, still toweling off, not looking up, not looking like he wanted to move.

 He was the story in the Leafs' first-round victory over Ottawa and his frustration told so different a story last night against the Philadelphia Flyers.

 This time, he had no answer or answers. This time, he tried to play goal and defence -- often at the same time -- and it was indication enough of just how far the Leafs were from the Flyers.

 This time, he couldn't steal victory and the frustration was clearly his. He went in one game from doing the frustrating to being the one frustrated. It wasn't how the Leafs wanted to begin the second round. It looked too much like the games in Philadelphia last year, too much like the Leafs couldn't handle the larger and stronger Flyers.

 "Yeah," Belfour mumbled in barely audible tones, "they put some guys in the crease."

 That was about all he said. There wasn't any reason to say much more. He expected more from himself and certainly more from those who were expected to support him.

 The post-game traffic on the Walt Whitman Bridge post game was not much different from the legs and arms of John Leclair and Keith Primeau and anybody else he had to look through while trying to stop Philadelphia shots.

 The Maple Leaf suspects were both usual and unusual last night. On the first goal, Ron Francis lost a draw, Alexander Mogilny missed a coverage and Tomas Kaberle was manhandled by Tony Amonte, who scored. Other than that, everything went well.

 Manhandling Kaberle apparently has become something of an annual sport in Philadelphia. The Flyers did it on the first and third goals. In between, Nik Antropov scored his first goal of the post-season but unfortunately it was on his own net.

 Antropov's goal was assisted by linemates Alexei Ponikarovsky being out of position, Joe Nieuwendyk trying to compensate for that, and the Leafs not managing to clear the puck from their zone.

 This is what happens when you don't win the fights behind the net and along the boards and as cliched as it sounds, for all the loose pucks.

 This is what the Flyers have done to the Leafs in all the playoff games here at the Wachovia Center over the past two springs.

 That is when you measure Belfour on the composure barometer. The more he wanders from his net, the more frustrated he clearly acts. And then he whacked somebody named Branko Radivojevic with his stick -- who in hell is Branko Radivojevic? -- drawing a late penalty that took away whatever slight hope the Leafs had of coming back.

 "Did they get you off your game?" Belfour was asked afterward.

 "No," he answered, lying.

 What was he supposed to say?

 That Kaberle was again knocked around like a rag doll. That the Flyers turned their backs on the Leafs defence and posted up down low like a power forward in basketball.

 That his wingers have to occasionally move their feet to move the puck off the boards and out of their zone. That the only Leaf showing less composure was general manager John Ferguson, who ranted emotionally all night in the press box displaying more passion and aggression than many of his troops.

 Ed Belfour has been the strongest and bravest Leaf of the post-season, the star of a team in need of its captain. But after all he has done, he should be the last Leaf to be abandoned.

 He carried this team to the second round.

 He won that fight.

 He can't battle this round alone.

 And if he does, this round will be over very quickly.


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