Kilger gives it best shot

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Even before he picked up the puck at centre ice for his penalty shot, Chad Kilger knew what he was going to do.

"I'd seen enough of those glove saves from him," he said. "I was going to stay away from that side."

The "him" in question was Marc-Andre Fleury, the brilliant young Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender who, to that point, had held the Maple Leafs off the board, even though there were less than seven minutes remaining in regulation time.

The score was 0-0. The Leafs were looking lethargic, and as the game had worn on, the Penguins had started to carry the play. The outlook definitely was not bright.

But when goaltender Mikael Tellqvist made a fine save on Sidney Crosby's golden opportunity, the Leafs countered with a rush, and in the hope of preventing a goal, Pittsburgh defenceman Robert Scuderi brought down Kilger from behind.

There wasn't much doubt about the call, although Penguins coach Michel Therrien took a contrarian view.

"I believe that was a horrible call," he said, "but there's nothing we can do. I don't think it was a clear breakaway. I didn't believe that. Interpretation is always different."

"I felt I was in clear," Kilger said. "I thought I had an empty net when he took me down."

Right on both counts.

Even though Kilger was coming in from the side, Scuderi was behind him and in this season of new interpretations, that call has been made consistently.

So there was Kilger, standing at centre ice, mapping his strategy and hoping to score the goal that would keep the Leafs' faint playoff hopes alive.

He already had determined that he would be staying away from Fleury's glove side. And he also knew that he has one of the hardest shots on the Leafs, a fact that was documented during the skills competition last month.

So the plan was clear. No dekes. No fancy stuff. Get within range and fire away over the blocker.

"Yeah, if it was there, that was it," Kilger said. "If not, then I'd probably go five-hole if that was there."

But there was no need to change the original plan. Fleury set up as expected and Kilger wired the shot past him and that was the game.

He had been a bit concerned. At that point, the two teams already had played 21 minutes without having the ice resurfaced as a result of the blackouts.

The Mellon Arena is not noted for great ice at the best of times and with it having been in use for more than a period, Kilger was aware of the danger that the puck would bounce on him.

But he got lucky until he got within shooting range and he didn't want to tempt fate. "It seemed to stay flat," he said. "I didn't want to make a move. I knew my best opportunity was to shoot. That's one of my strong points."

This year, Kilger, who has been cast off by a number of teams in his career, has been one of the Leafs' best players and leads the team in five-on-five goals.

"If there was something that hockey people would wonder about," said coach Pat Quinn, "it would be why a guy with terrific skills, a first-round pick and high expectations never really seemed to establish a consistency."

The Leafs picked him up three years ago and he has been what Quinn called, "one of our most trusted guys."

Perhaps the stick made a difference. Not long before coming to Toronto, Kilger switched to a composite stick.

"The puck definitely comes off quicker," he said. "I find my shots are harder and the sticks have more consistency."

If it always gives the results it did last night, it's a keeper. Like its owner.


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