Power to change pays

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Time and again this year, the Maple Leafs have won games with their power play.

They did it again last night, squeaking past the Florida Panthers 2-1 on the strength of a power-play goal with 9:42 remaining.

But there are power plays and there are power plays. Just because you've seen one doesn't mean you've seen them all.

Before the Leafs scored, they had five other power plays, none of which was successful. But as the night went on, they tried a number of variations.

For awhile, they tried the standard format with defenceman Bryan McCabe as the trigger man.

But the Panthers, coached by the defensively oriented Jacques Martin, are well schooled in the arts of negating offence and they knew where to go. They keyed on McCabe.

The Leafs then started to try to use the new seam -- the extra space that has opened up as a result of the larger offensive zones in use this season -- to set up Jeff O'Neill in the faceoff circle to the goalie's right.

"On our power play right now, teams are sniffing out Bryan," O'Neill said. "On power plays, you always take what they give you and right now, they're charging out and taking away that point shot from Bryan, so we're just trying to create a three-on-two down low.

"There's no sense in Bryan trying to shoot the puck into a guy's pads every time."

Coach Pat Quinn has been anticipating increased pressure on McCabe and predicted 10 days ago that when it happened, the Leafs would start to change their tactics.

"We've been working that seam for the past couple of games," O'Neill said. "It always seems that when you're on the power play, if you make that one seam pass, it kind of gets those penalty killers running around a little more and creates that one extra chance, so it's a good thing to do."

But this was not a great game for the Leafs' gunners. Part of that was the result of some excellent goaltending by Roberto Luongo. Part of it was the result of atrocious ice.

The Leafs had chances, but for 50 minutes all they could muster was an even-strength goal by Darcy Tucker.

Stephen Weiss got that one back for Florida, thereby setting the stage for the third period tie-breaker.

The Panthers already were killing a penalty to Gary Roberts when Juraj Kolnik got called for hooking.

Now it was Quinn's turn to shine. McCabe and Tomas Kaberle stayed out, of course, but for a forward line Quinn sent out his three big centres -- Lindros, Mats Sundin and Jason Allison.

It was not a tactic Quinn had been planning. "I just made the decision on the bench when the situation occurred," he said. "We got a result out of it.

"It's just one of those things that you do because you think it's the right thing to do at the time."

For awhile, it appeared that the Leafs were as determined as the Panthers to kill the penalty. They passed and passed and the seconds ticked away. But it was all part of the plan.

"I didn't want to shoot too early," McCabe said. "We were playing the seam play there (last night) because they were playing their D pretty tight.

"Then, on the five-on-three, we had a minute and 20. It's a lot of time. You don't want to waste a shot early, so you try to make them tired then hope for the best.

"We showed some patience and Kabby gave me another great pass. We were trying to suck the forward into thinking we were going low and I had pretty much a clear view of it."

And with that clear view, he blasted a big-time shot, a blur into the upper corner on the far side.

Luongo saw it but couldn't do anything about it. "(The puck) was on edge," he said. "It was a five-on-three, so I can't be as aggressive on top of my crease, so ..."

His voice trailed off. Then he added, "I got a piece of it."

Not enough. Another power-play goal. Another Leafs victory.


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