Leafs go on the defensive

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:32 PM ET

 So that's what can happen when a club realizes it can win with sound, defensive hockey.

 The Maple Leafs, who have been defined partly by resiliency when they have had playoff success in recent years, buckled down without their captain last night at the Air Canada Centre and are poised to send the Ottawa Senators golfing for the fourth time in four playoff meetings between the teams in the Battle of Ontario.

  With Mats Sundin nursing a leg injury, the Leafs scored two goals in the third period to cap an air-tight display of defence to beat the Senators 2-0.

 "I think we learned a couple of things," said Joe Nieuwendyk, who was back after missing Game 4 with a bad back and scored an insurance goal. "Stay out of the penalty box and play solid defensively. If we get five men back protecting Eddie (Belfour), he is going to make big saves. We have to continue to do that."

 The Leafs can finish off the Senators, whose lack of a killer instinct is starting to get comical, tomorrow night at the Corel Centre in Ottawa. Toronto leads the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final 3-2.

 "It won't be easy," defenceman Bryan McCabe said. "We never thought it would be."

 Belfour made 21 saves for his third shutout of the series, becoming the first Leafs goalie to register three shutouts in one series since 1994, when Felix Potvin blanked Belfour and the Chicago Blackhawks three times. It was the 14th post-season shutout of Belfour's career, moving him into a tie for fifth with Jacques Plante on the NHL's all-time list.

 TOUGH SAVES

 But while Belfour was good -- he made a couple of tough saves on Marian Hossa in the third period -- he did not have to be spectacular. His teammates made sure of that as they willingly became involved in a battle of attrition.

 Nine times the Leafs iced the puck in the first period, simply trying to wait out their foes. Toronto had just six shots to Ottawa's 14 in the first 40 minutes, but the Senators didn't get much from anything other than the perimeter. With the game on the line in the third, Toronto had 10 shots.

 Tie Domi was credited with the winner at 1:43 of the third when his rebound deflected past Patrick Lalime off the skate of Senators forward Bryan Smolinski.

 Nieuwendyk's goal with less than five minutes to play came off an odd-man rush that was created when Zdeno Chara got stuck deep in the Leafs end after pinching.

 Overall, the performance by the Leafs was not what most Toronto fans are accustomed to from a group which usually goes hard on offence and asks questions later.

 The stars were the people such as Robert Reichel, who played his best playoff game as a Leaf, Tom Fitzgerald, Domi and Ken Klee.

 "I think we were talking all the time about trying to stick with a plan, and something would break for us and that's what happened," coach Pat Quinn said.

 TURNING POINT

 The key play in Game 5:

 Early in the third period a Tie Domi snap shot was stopped by Senators goalie Patrick Lalime, who kicked out a juicy rebound into the slot. Sens forward Bryan Smolinski, who was tied up with Leafs forward Chad Kilger, accidentally directed the puck into his own net, snapping the scoreless tie at 1:43. Domi was credited with the goal.


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