Little to choose between 'em

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 5:26 PM ET


 The winner of the 15th round wins the fight.

 And the decision will be anything but unanimous.

 That's how close it is between the Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators.

 That's how oddly balanced this Eastern Conference quarter-final has been.

 Six games played. Three wins each. Ten goals apiece. A margin of error thinner than Bryan Smolinski's hairline.

 Last night needed double-overtime to find a winner of the game but not a winner of the series. Eighty-eight games later and there is still next to nothing to choose between these two teams.

 UNPREDICTABLE

 Nothing but a seventh game to determine which team goes home early.

 It is that close and that bizarre and that unpredictable. The age and the styles and the tempo of the games may differ, but the line is that fine. That playoff line determining success or failure.

 It is now a one-game season to avoid disappointment. A one-game season to avoid the questioning. A one-game season to keep the pulse of Toronto hockey beating. A 2-1 loss last night in Ottawa in double-overtime pushed the Leafs and the Sens to the precipice.

 "We knew," Bryan McCabe said, "it wasn't going to be easy." And it hasn't been for either team.

 This is another Game 7 for the Leafs. The fourth of the Pat Quinn era. The Leafs lost last year in Philadelphia, won the year before against Ottawa and the New York Islanders. The two games in Toronto they won. The road game they lost.

 What any of that means now is likely nothing, although the Leafs will stick to the mantra that they have the advantage going home. And in a series where it is impossible to handicap what advantage really means, from one period to the next, believing may be the best friend the Leafs have right now.

 Last night, the very age and experience that won them Game 5 at home without Mats Sundin in their lineup, turned ever so slightly on the Leafs as the night wore on. The younger, quicker team had more left in most of the third period and both of the overtimes.

 Even though it was Aki Berg, who played half the time of either Brian Leetch or McCabe, and wasn't out of gas, who made the poor judgment that led to Mike Fisher's overtime score. Someone, somewhere was going to make the mistake to end it.

 "It was a bang-bang play," said Belfour, trying to explain the goal at 1:47 of the second overtime period. "I'm not even sure what happened."

 What happened at the end was the Senators were gathered as one in the corner after scoring, celebrating in bright red, the team written off as "choking dogs" by their own public a day ago is suddenly barking again.

 Will that life carry over to tomorrow?

 If this series has proved anything it is that there is no form from one game to the next. Each has been a chapter all its own, some of it eventful but much of it not. One night the Senators look unstoppable and the next night they seemingly have nothing. One night the Leafs beam with veteran savvy and the next they appear to temporarily lose their minds.

 Last night was unlike any of the previous five games except for the fact the Leafs scored first, as they have in every game.

 They tried to hold on the rest of the way but slipped ever so slightly.

 "Obviously we played all right," Gary Roberts said. "We lost a one-goal game in double-overtime."

 With one game to go. And maybe just one goal to determine the difference between winner and loser. 


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