Score one for Connolly

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

BUFFALO -- If you haven't seen the goal, you will.

It's the one where Buffalo Sabres centre Tim Connolly turns Ken Klee into a pretzel, then threads a backhander into a three-inch space over Eddie Belfour's shoulder.

It was one of those sequential moves that has to be seen again and again to really appreciate. You can forgive Klee and Belfour if they choose to take our word for it.

It was also one of those goals that can break a team's back. The Maple Leafs had been large and in charge most of the night but couldn't seem to finish against Buffalo goalie Martin Biron. Connolly didn't make that mistake, scoring his magical second goal of the game in the seventh minute of the third period, giving Buffalo a 3-2 lead on the way to a 5-2 victory.

"It's definitely one of the better goals I've scored," Connolly said. "I practise that move a lot. Working on Rob Ray in the summer, he gave me the confidence to use that move in a game. I've used it before but I just haven't scored on it."

Connolly was about to head off the ice on a line change when the puck came to him on the left wing, heading into the Leafs zone. He went one-on-one against Klee, tucking the puck into his own skates as he slid past Klee on the outside. In the clear, he kicked the puck back to his stick, feinted left and Belfour went with him, leaving a microscopic opening for the high backhander that didn't miss.

Not only did it silence the Leafs, but it put a cork in the huge contingent of Toronto fans who had followed their heroes over the Peace Bridge and created an atmosphere not unlike a playoff game.

"It's nice," Connolly said. "It's a fun atmosphere whenever we play Toronto. The fans are battling back and forth. It's always a lot louder in the arena and I think the guys really enjoy playing when there's an atmosphere like that."

Ya think? In the past 21 Leaf visits to Buffalo, the Leafs have won only four times.

"I thought the atmosphere was good, whether it was a Canadian guy clapping his hands or a U.S. guy," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said.

Ruff didn't have a lot of difficulty curbing his enthusiasm. He's not at all happy with his team's recent play and even though the Sabres won this one, he seemed unimpressed.

"There's still some things we've got to correct. Unless we correct them, we won't win on a consistent basis," he said.

But even in a grumpy mood, Ruff couldn't bring himself to disrespect the Connolly goal, though he did zing Klee in a backhanded way.

"That'll make TSN's Top 10," he said. "It might even make ESPN in the States. I've seen him (use the move). He (used) it maybe three games ago and didn't score.

"If you try that move every time down the ice you'll be frustrated a lot but there's a time and a place and a defenceman to do it on. It was a helluva goal. That's part of what the game is about now and it was tremendous."

Connolly conceded also that this was the kind of goal that would not have been scored during the NHL's previous incarnation.

Two years ago, Klee probably would have tackled Connolly as he tried to go by him. In the third period of a tight game, Klee probably would have had to amputate one of Connolly's arms to get a penalty.

"The highlight goals come from the new rules," Connolly said. "Under the old rules you could clutch or grab a guy when he's going around you. With the new rules you can't do that.

"I'm really happy that the move worked. It's not as if I'm trying something fancy. It's a legitimate move where you're pulling the puck around the guy. And you're using your feet to protect the puck."

Whatever it was, it was special and another example of what can happen when you enforce the rules. Nobody wrote any of this "new enforcement" into the record book last summer. It was there all the time. How is it we ignored the obvious for so long?


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