Belfour shows true colours

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 5:32 PM ET

 The best of the Maple Leafs penalty-killers last night barely skated a stride last night, hit no one and hardly shot the puck.

 He didn't have to.

  When Ed Belfour reached out with his left glove and stole a certain goal from a wide-open Daniel Alfredsson in the third period last night at the Air Canada Centre, he may have stolen a whole lot more than a score.

 He may have begun the process of stealing back a series.

 "He basically won them the game," said Alfredsson afterwards, his head bowing. "I think I more or less shot it in his glove."

 Only time will determine just how large the third period glove save on Alfredsson -- or the kick save Belfour made several minutes later again on the power play, again on Alfredsson -- was in providing the Leafs with a 2-0 win over the Ottawa Senators to even this first-round playoff series at 1-1.

 This was Belfour at his best on a strange night of phantom calls and undisciplined penalties -- both teams, both ways. both referees -- killing Leafs penalties, killing the Senators hopes of going up 2-0, bringing the usual band of moribund Leafs fans to a crescendo chant of "Eddie, Eddie."

 If anyone can understand what's a penalty and what isn't in this very odd playoff season, send your cards and letters to Pat Quinn and Jacques Martin. They haven't completely figured it out. But the more penalties that were called -- the more offensive pressure Ottawa put on the Leafs -- the more Belfour seemed on his game.

 The Senators didn't score on six power plays, including a 5-on-3, which they scored on in Game 1 and didn't finish last night.

 The chants began with 159 seconds to play and the chorus of Leafs fans continued while punches were thrown by unusual suspects right to the end. A game that could have gone either way was won by the Leafs.

 The kind of difference Belfour makes when he is this sharp, this focussed, this square to the puck. The Belfour that Leafs fans have come to expect the past two seasons.

 You don't beat the Ottawa Senators without great goaltending. It isn't going to happen. It won't happen. They generate too many scoring opportunities. They wind up too often on the power play.

 The difference between Game 1 and Game 2 wasn't Belfour, who had a reasonable game in the opener. The difference was the style of play was more suited to the Leafs' game, a little bit more wide open, a little bit more physical, a little bit more gambling.

 And a whole lot of goaltending. The best way to avoid falling into the neutral zone trap is to score first.

 SPECTACULAR

 Patrick Lalime played a strong, solid game in goal for Ottawa. Belfour wasn't solid -- he was spectacular. But spectacular is what he can be on almost any night when he isn't completely left alone.

 The kind of night when the players trust in him seems elevated and they draw inspiration from him. The playoff mantra: The best players have to be your best players.

 Belfour was big. Gary Roberts, with both goals, was big. Mats Sundin was big. The Leafs veterans -- many of whom went awry in Game 1 -- all came out for Game 2.

 Ed Belfour wound up with playoff shutout No. 12, tying him on the all-time list with the late Terry Sawchuk and the semi-retired crazy, Dominik Hasek.

 The Leafs will need more of this from Belfour to advance, but then, that was expected. No longer unbelievable, this is his level.


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