Flyers, you're next

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:30 PM ET


 Thanks to Patrick Lalime, it was over early.

 That was just fine by the Maple Leafs. Early is something rather different for the Leafs and with the well-rested Philadelphia Flyers waiting to pick on the weary bones of last night's survivor, it didn't hurt to have most of the Game 7 tension spent before the first period was over.

 The Battle of Ontario, Part IV, was decided by goaltending.

 This was an outcome that apparently eluded noted swami D. Alfredsson, whose crystal ball had foreseen back-to-back Ottawa victories in Games 6 and 7. The Sens captain didn't go quite as far as the owner, Eugene Melnyk, who declared "We're gonna kill 'em!" following Game 6. This was a quote that got the attention of even the experienced Leafs, who tend to ignore bulletin-board fodder.

 "We don't allow newspapers in this room," Tie Domi said. "But Melnyk's comments couldn't be avoided. It provided quite a bit of motivation."

 Alfredsson got the first half of the quinella right, but neither his nor the rookie owner's prognostication took into account Lalime's colossal meltdown in the biggest game of the season.

 We take you to the eighth minute of the first period. Toronto already had a 1-0 lead, attributable more to Domi's powerful forecheck than any shortcoming by Lalime.

 But now Toronto's Joe Nieuwendyk comes sifting in over the blue line, wide left. His long wrist shot from beyond the circle beats Lalime on the short side. Great shot, but puh-lease.

 Almost 12 minutes later, Nieuwendyk cruises in off the left side, and then snaps a wrister between Lalime's pads.

 With Eddie Belfour doing his thing at the other end, did anybody in the rink seriously believe Ottawa could score four times after that? Not likely.

 "We just didn't play well enough," GM John Muckler said.

 What makes it even more unpalatable for Muckler is that this was a Leaf team that was vulnerable, through injury, but the Sens couldn't solve Belfour.

 And what of the Sens, destined for another summer of introspection, courtesy the Leafs?

 This curse has been driven so deeply into the Senators' heads that it may be time for Muckler to swallow hard and clean house.

 They were, in this series, a million-dollar outfit with a 10-cent goalie. But you have to wonder if at least some of the flak Lalime is taking shouldn't be directed at Jacques Martin.

 Martin may have one of the best tactical minds in the game, but his bloodless personna seems to have infected the hockey team. At various critical points in this series when circumstances demanded a bold, aggressive, passionate approach, the Sens remained true to their milquetoast coach and paid the price for their reticence.

 If Martin survives this fourth defeat at the hands of the Leafs in five years, then he should be appointed Coach For Life because nothing will ever get him out from behind that bench.

 The Leafs were said to be too old, too beaten up, but there is something to be said for experience in the clutch.

 "You have to be able to stickhandle and shoot and do all those fundamental things but, on a longer, probably more important list are the intangibles like determination, strength of character and will," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said the other day. "I think we have an abundance of that in this room."

 Those qualities were amply demonstrated in this series, in the absences of captain Mats Sundin and Owen Nolan.

 All those traits work rather nicely in conjunction with an all-world goalkeeper and that defines Belfour in this series. Strength of character can only take you so far. But a hot goalie? A hot goalie can take you all the way to the finish line.

 It is a concept the Senators should consider.


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