Zero hero saves day

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:36 PM ET


 OTTAWA -- Were he eligible for the award, Eddie Belfour's chiropractor would be the early frontrunner for the Conn Smythe award as playoff MVP.

 Whatever magic he has performed on the aching back of the veteran Maple Leafs goaltender this season, it has worked to perfection.

 Thanks primarily to the spectacular play of Belfour, easily the backbone of Pat Quinn's team, the Leafs today find themselves with a 2-1 lead in their Eastern Conference quarter-final against the Ottawa Senators.

 By blanking the Sens 2-0 last night at the Corel Centre, Belfour now has kept Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa and Co., off the scoresheet for the past 138 minutes, 21 seconds -- and counting.

 Belfour, who turns 39 next week, has posted shutouts in four of his past five starts and has not allowed a goal in his past four road games.

 What bad back?

 "I've had good runs in my career before, but I can't think of any (to compare this to), at least not off the top of my head," Belfour said, sporting a wide grin.

 Despite being outshot 98-60 in this series, the Leafs reclaimed home-ice advantage. Belfour's 13th career post-season shutout moved him into a tie for sixth with former Leafs great Turk Broda on the NHL's career list.

 "I think this was an all-around good feeling for all of us, for sure," Belfour said. "As long as we win, I don't care how."

 No one knows more how valuable a commodity Belfour can be than Joe Nieuwendyk, who combined with the Eagle to help the Dallas Stars win a Stanley Cup five years ago.

 Both men have acquired a few more aches, pains and gray hairs since then, but the thirst to once again sip champagne out of the silver mug is as strong as ever.

 "I've seen this before," said Nieuwendyk, who provided Belfour with all the offence he would need by beating Sens goalie Patrick Lalime with a wicked one-timer at 1:30 of the second period. "Eddie really enjoys this time of year.

 "He carries himself better than any goalie I've played with, and that's a big deal. But we have to be better. We can't rely on Eddie every night."

 Nieuwendyk's goal came after another Leafs graybeard, Ron Francis, 41, knocked Brian Pothier off the puck then delivered a perfect feed.

 "When it's set up with a little bow on it, it's not too hard to get good wood on it, and I did," Nieuwendyk said.

 Captain Mats Sundin's goal at 14:16 of the third period then sealed the deal for Toronto.

 Just down the hall from where Nieuwendyk was holding court with the media, the Senators curiously did not seem to be showing much sense of urgency.

 This seemed curious considering Ottawa has surrendered 13 unanswered goals to the Leafs at the Corel Centre dating back to Toronto's come-from-behind 5-4 victory on Feb. 5.

 "We have to keep working and doing the same things," Sens forward Todd White said.

 If that means not scoring and losing playoff games to Toronto, the Sens are on the right track.

 --

 TURNING POINT

 The key play in Game 3:

 - Hard to pick one save by Ed Belfour that turned the tide, but he somehow got a glove on a Marian Hossa shot off a scramble early in the second period. It was one of the few times he was out of position and from that point on, the Sens seemed to lose their edge as Toronto found its forechecking legs.


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