Maple Leafs' Defense Ices Penguins
TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs made it easy for goaltender Chris Joseph with a great all-around defensive performance, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1 Saturday night to move within one victory of the Eastern Conference finals.
Goals by Sylvain Cote, Mike Johnson, Steve Thomas and Sergei Berezin, and fanatical Toronto checking that bottled up Pittsburgh's top scorers resulted in a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series.
The Maple Leafs can wrap up the conference semifinal with a victory in Game 6 Monday night in Pittsburgh.
Joseph was required to make a mere fraction of his usual number of saves as Toronto outshot Pittsburgh 20-16.
Jan Hrdina got credit for the only Pittsburgh goal when his pass was inadvertently redirected behind Joseph by teammate Kevyn Adams.
Toronto jumped to a 2-0 lead on its first three shots at Tom Barrasso, who could not be blamed.
Cote's slap shot from the blue line changed direction off Robert Lang and whizzed past Barrasso at 7:04. Dimitri Yushkevich's wrist shot from the blue line was deflected in by Johnson at 10:48. Both goals came shortly after Pittsburgh killed a penalty.
The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, were checking the Penguins to a standstill. Frustration began to eat at Jaromir Jagr, the NHL's leading scorer. After being knocked to the ice cleanly by Yushkevich, Jagr swung his stick at the Toronto defenseman and was sent off for slashing at 19:34. Jagr threw his stick as he would a spear into the penalty box in anger.
Thomas made it 3-0 at 13:44 of the second period on a long and precise cross-ice pass from Lonny Bohonos. Barrasso dropped to his knees and Thomas niftily flipped the puck over the goalie's left shoulder.
Hrdina got one back by accident when he passed from the side boards in Toronto's zone and Adams, reaching for the puck in front of the crease, poked it past Joseph at 14:13.
The Penguins swarmed Joseph early in the third, but were unable to get off many good shots. Yushkevich and defense partner Daniil Markov were outstanding, as were the Cote-Tomas Kaberle and Bryan Berard-Alexander Karpovtsev tandems.
A capacity crowd of 18,800 roared its approval when Berezin burst into the clear and fired a low wrist shot past Barrasso with five minutes left. Yanic Perreault had dug the puck loose along the boards.
A Toronto win Monday night will qualify the Maple Leafs for the conference final against the winner of the Buffalo-Boston series which the Sabres lead 3-1.
© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press