Leafs go on the defensive

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:00 PM ET

 Nobody lives the Maple Leaf life, every day, every moment, every year, the way Tie Domi does.

 This team and this city defines who he is and what he is and all the passions that are within him come to life on the hockey nights that seem to matter most.

  And there he was last night, at a desperate time for the Leafs, speaking through a voice damaged by the game, standing in the dressing room of his beloved team -- he is the rare combination of Leaf fan and Leaf player -- with the winning goal credited to his stick. And with a little boy's smile not leaving his face.

 Telling his story over and over again to everyone and anyone who would listen. "Incredible," he whispered through a scratchy throat. "This is just incredible." He called it the biggest goal of his life, the biggest win of his life, and you could allow him all the hyperbole he could muster.

 ATTENTION

 So much attention has been paid to Joe Nieuwendyk's back and Mats Sundin's leg and Owen Nolan's knee that Domi, as is not his custom, has slipped through the cracks. He is playing, as Don Cherry got in trouble for saying, with a damaged hand and a throat in need of surgery and at least one other part of his body -- upper or lower -- that will require the attention of a physician at season's end.

 But he plays every night, because that's what the does, and because he can't afford to stop and won't allow himself to. Because everything he's ever wanted to do and wanted to be is enveloped in blue and white.

 This is his team and this is his town -- in season and off -- and every morning when he stops for his coffee the hockey temperature of Toronto is evident.

 "Everybody knows what the whole city feels," said Domi. "When I go to get my coffee in the morning (today) everybody will be happy and say hello. You can see when we lose in the morning -- nobody even looks at you and they're scared to say boo to you.

 "I can tell you this. When you have a finish like we did last year, it's a tough summer living here all year round... But it's a special place to play. There's high pressure and high expectations. I've learned to grow with that. We just want to continue to grow with that."

 Tie Domi made his reputation as a little hockey man fighting all the big hockey men and never taking a step backwards. He used to be and liked to be, what Pat Quinn now calls, part of the show. But Quinn believes in him, enough to have a seven-goal scorer play regularly on the power play in Game 4, and enough to see him play 18 shifts last night, despite missing some time at even strength.

 And the people who mattered most to him were all around last night. His wife, Leanne, took in her first playoff game. His close friend, Sundin, was first in line to hug him when he came off the ice after the 2-0 win. At home, his three kids who fought about which one was going to get to go to the game, all watched on television.

 CHEERING

 All cheering on one of the least likely goal scorers in the first of five games the Senators didn't dominate. This was the kind of tight game that stars rarely make the difference in. This was Domi taking a shot, off a pass from Robert Reichel, off a deflection off an Ottawa player's skate made possible by the unlikely Chad Kilger going to the net.

 With the biggest Leaf fan of all getting a goal, stretching the season, making another win, maybe another round, possible for his favourite team. His team. His town. His rare time in a scorer's spotlight.

 For one night of smothering playoff hockey, fairy tales and dreams can in fact come true.


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