No ordinary Joe

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:41 PM ET


 The question threw Joe Nieuwendyk for a loop.

 The Maple Leafs centre was asked whether he helped run Senators goalie Patrick Lalime out of Ottawa after scoring two goals from the same bad angle in the first period last night.

 "Well, I ... what am I going to say?" Nieuwendyk said. "I think he played a terrific series. I think I got a couple that maybe shouldn't have went in, I don't know. You never know and that's why you put the puck on the net. I just think he got overshadowed by a pretty hot Eddie Belfour."

 LALIME REPLACED

 Nieuwendyk put the final nail in Lalime's season when his shot from 25 feet went between the goalie's legs in the dying seconds of the opening period. Earlier, Nieuwendyk's shot from the same area flew into the net under Lalime's blocker. Lalime, who nearly was chased out of Ottawa during the regular season for inconsistent play, was replaced by Martin Prusek to start the second period. By then, the Senators were done.

 The weakness of the goals aside, one can't take the importance of Nieuwendyk lightly. He missed Game 4 when his cranky back acted up but managed to score five goals in the series, which has him tied for the playoff lead with Alexei Kovalev of the Montreal Canadiens and Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames. That looks pretty, but the fact is Nieuwendyk provided so much more, especially with captain Mats Sundin out with a leg injury for the final three games.

 There's no denying the Leafs were outplayed for much of the series, but Nieuwendyk's savvy and presence were large factors for Toronto. He is trying to become the first player in modern NHL history to capture the Stanley Cup with four different teams. Already he has has hoisted the mug with the Flames, Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils.

 For now, though, that's not his concern. The 37-year-old Whitby native was relishing the moment last night.

 "There is something special about a Game 7," Nieuwendyk said. "I really feel a big factor that has not been mentioned was the last game of the regular season that we won 6-0 (in Ottawa). That gave us the game here (last night). I think that was huge for us. Our fans have been terrific and they were a big influence."


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