Good, but not good enough

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

It was not a night without redemption for the Maple Leafs.

They overcame a 2-0 deficit against the Washington Capitals, took advantage of a string of power plays and roared back for a 6-4 victory.

But that being said, there still were far too many mistakes. The Leafs got away with a lot last night because this was the Washington Capitals, the team universally selected, even in Washington, to be by far the worst in the National Hockey League this year.

The blue-bleeding fans will see this as a major triumph, a stirring comeback victory. The less partial will give the Leafs credit for a well-deserved win, but will temper their praise with the admonition that this type of game against a strong team would have been a one-sided loss.

Even though the new rules and the new interpretations encourage a less-structured game than fans have seen for some years, there still is a need for discipline.

Time and again last night, the Leafs took the easy road.

In some cases, it cost them. In some cases, it didn't.

But again, this was the Washington Capitals, a team that had defeated the Leafs on Sunday and was now threatening to inflict the ultimate indignity -- a home-and-home sweep.

Yet the Leafs started as they did on Sunday, going through the motions and digging themselves a 2-0 hole.

Surely at that point, a team with any championship aspirations buckles down. To their credit, the Leafs eventually did. But not before a few stumbles along the road.

When the inevitable penalty parade got rolling, they had their chances to take advantage. But Darcy Tucker, and then Jeff O'Neill took penalties in the early stages of power plays.

Those were just a couple of the more obvious transgressions. There also were missed assignments, low-percentage plays and plain old lackadaisical mental errors.

In the second period, for instance, the Leafs got trapped as a Washington penalty ended and gave up a two-on-one break that against most teams would have cost them a goal.

But Jakub Klepis and Matt Pettinger aren't likely to cause any silversmiths to skip their summer vacation, and the Leafs were fortunate to escape unscathed.

This does not mean that the Leafs did everything wrong. When the torpor seemed to be in danger of becoming terminal, Eric Lindros woke up the crowd -- and his teammates -- with a couple of thundering bodychecks.

And Chad Kilger made a nifty play, taking a pass in the deep slot with his back to the net, then pivoting and rifling a shot past Olaf Kolzig to narrow the gap.

About two minutes later, with the Leafs on the power play, Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle were playing catch along the blue line.

Then, staring purposefully at Kaberle as if to make sure the pass was certain to be on target, McCabe fired a pass right on to O'Neill's stick at the side of the net. The fake caught the Capitals by surprise for long enough to give O'Neill a clear shot, which he buried past Kolzig.

"I was trying not to look at Jeff," McCabe said. "I was lucky enough to slide it through."

He was being modest. The pass not only was hard, it was on the money. "One time out of ten it will happen,"McCabe said with a shrug.

In the third period, sheer willpower by Alexei Ponikarovsky allowed him to win a battle for the puck and beat Kolzig from close range, a goal that clearly disheartened the Caps.

And despite any lack of discipline the Leafs might have shown, the Caps were worse in that department. By the early stages of the third period, the Leafs had enjoyed six more power plays than Washington.

All those imbalances finally took their toll. The Leafs cranked up the jets and fired home four third-period goals.

It was a good showing -- but not without its flaws.


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