Only thing hurt may be Eagle's pride

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

The burning question in the press box -- which, like all press boxes has more than its share of conspiracy theorists -- was this:

Is Ed Belfour really hurt?

During the stoppages in a game that saw lots of scoring, plenty of power plays, a couple of fights, a phenomenal amount of glorious scoring opportunities botched by the Maple Leafs and eventually a 5-4 shootout victory by the Leafs over the Boston Bruins, the conversation kept coming back to the goaltending situation.

There were those who felt that it seemed to be a somewhat remarkable coincidence that Belfour's back problems should flare up just when Leafs coach Pat Quinn seemed to be backing down from his established stance of allocating playing time by seniority rather than by ability.

Tie Domi and Jeff O'Neill both had been recent healthy scratches, and now, there were indications it was Belfour's turn.

Mikael Tellqvist started in goal on Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Quinn subsequently hinted he intended to give Tellqvist a bit of a run.

Suddenly, Belfour's "back problems" flared up.

The media people who have dealt with Belfour during his tenure here didn't think it was unreasonable to suggest he is not the kind of person who would take kindly to sitting at the end of the bench with a towel around his neck as a healthy scratch.

Instead, he declared himself an unhealthy scratch, thereby saving face.

On the surface, the theory made sense. When you think about it, why would Belfour have back problems?

Sure, he has had them throughout his career, but isn't that why he had an operation in August 2004?

He played all season long without a problem. And he even had a nice break for the Olympics just last month.

So why should this ailment, apparently corrected by surgery and never having recurred since, flare up right now?

Belfour has made himself even scarcer than usual ever since skipping practice for a "maintenance day" on Monday, the first practice day after Tellqvist played well enough to earn a second consecutive start.

Maybe he does indeed have a bad back.

Then again, maybe he just doesn't like the concept of sitting while someone else starts. He never has -- and that's one of his characteristics which hasn't been corrected by an operation.

Meanwhile, Tellqvist, who wisely keeps insisting he and Belfour are good friends, spent last night doing his best to win Belfour's job.

But perhaps that's a mischaracterization.

Really, at this stage of the proceedings, the job is Tellqvist's to lose. Surely Belfour won't be back next season, and since Tellqvist is under contract, it would be reasonable to assume the plan is to have Tellqvist be the starter next season.

(The Leafs do have a plan you know. General manager John Ferguson keeps telling us so. He just won't tell us what it is.)

At times last night, Tellqvist was brilliant. He made a save on Mariusz Czerkawski at the end of the second period that would have put the game out of reach of anything but a string of 5-on-3 opportunities.

But he also made a couple of strategic mistakes. On the third Boston goal, for instance, he allowed Patrice Bergeron's pass to whistle right across the top of his crease over to Marco Sturm, who then tucked it into the net.

PLAYED WELL

Even on the nights when his five-hole is larger than Brian Burke's ego, Belfour makes sure passes don't go through his crease.

Still, Tellqvist certainly played well enough -- and steadily enough -- to find his way back into the net for tomorrow night's game against the Buffalo Sabres.

Whether Belfour really has a bad back or not.


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