Maple Leafs Survive in Overtime to Knot Series
By Alan Robinson
PITTSBURGH The next goal had the potential to make the Toronto Maple Leafs' season or, almost assuredly, to end it.
Score the goal or write off the season. Score the goal or disappoint a hockey-loving nation that has just one Canadian team left to cheer in its most cherished sporting event, the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Score the goal or else.
The Maple Leafs scored it and, potentially, swayed the course of their playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, beating them 3-2 in overtime Thursday to gain a tie going into Game 5 Saturday in Toronto.
``Going home down 3-1 would have been awfully tough,'' Toronto coach Pat Quinn said.
``We couldn't go down 3-1 in the series,'' the Maple Leafs' Garry Valk said. ``We couldn't.''
The Maple Leafs couldn't hold a 2-1 lead in the third period as Penguins defenseman Brad Werenka scored the tying goal at 7:10. But, unlike the Penguins' come-from-behind 4-3 victory in Game 3, this goal didn't seem to cause the huge swing in momentum, confidence and tempo that Jaromir Jagr's tying goal did two nights before.
Toronto had nearly all of the good scoring chances late in the third period, then won it when Sergei Berezin stuffed a rebound of Valk's shot from the point into an abandoned net at 2:18 of overtime. Goaltender Tom Barrasso left the crease to play Valk's shot.
``He pounced on it. He's not going to miss many like that,'' Valk said. ``When he sees the puck lying in the crease, he's going to get to it. He scores a lot of goals that way.''
``I went to the net and the puck was waiting for me. Even my son wouldn't miss that shot,'' Berezin said. ``It's like a dream come true, the puck and an empty net.''
Now, rather than needing to win only in the final three games to advance to the Eastern Conference finals, the Penguins must win at least once more in the Air Canada Centre. And they almost certainly can't lose Game 6 at home Monday night.
``I don't care whether it was 3-2 or 5-1, it was a heartbreaker,'' forward Matthew Barnaby said. ``When you lose with a chance to go up 3-1, it's tough. But I also thinks it takes the pressure off us, playing up there,'' where the Penguins won Game 1 by 2-0.
Jagr, no longer slowed by the groin injury that limited the NHL scoring champion's effectiveness for three weeks, put the Penguins up 1-0 only five minutes into the game.
But they managed only 14 shots on goaltender Curtis Joseph, and had few good chances after failing to convert a blitz of opportunities early in the second period.
``We followed our game plan,'' the Maple Leafs' Todd Warriner said. ``We wanted to limit their chances. They had a couple of flurries, but I thought we did a good job. Now it's two out of three and we have home ice.''
First, the bankrupt Penguins ran out of money; now, they might be running out of players. Two of their top four scorers, Alexei Kovalev and German Titov, were out with injuries, and forward Alexei Morozov had the flu.
As a result, Barrasso theorized the Penguins lacked the energy and jump they had in Game 3. And Quinn suggested they seemed tired going into overtime.
``I thought we started out playing the way we wanted to, but we kind of fizzled after that,'' Barrasso said.
``I don't know that we were tired,'' Barnaby said. ``We had some chances early. I can't speak for our whole team, but I don't think we were tired.''
The Maple Leafs had one other edge, too: they were 6-1-7 in overtime during the season and now are 2-0 during the playoffs.
``It seems like we play better the longer the game goes on or the more pressure there is,'' said captain Mats Sundin, who scored once and set up Lonny Bohonos' second goal of the series. ``We find a way to get to the next level. We still would have had a chance, but you don't want to go down 3-1, So, for sure, it's big.''
© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press