They call it the Battle of Ontario, and all confrontations leave scars. The Maple Leafs walked away from this edition of the provincial slugfest victorious, but with some physical damage incurred. The Senators, in losing for the fourth spring tête-à-tête in five years between the two teams, sustained emotional damage that seems irreparable.
That the Senators could not vanquish their tormentors after winning a rousing Game 6 in overtime is one thing. That their goaltender, Patrick Lalime, capitulated completely is yet another. His collapse in the first period of this much anticipated moment of truth was, quite frankly, difficult to watch. If you have ever missed a two-foot putt on the 18th hole of a tied match or clanked a free throw that would have won the game or whiffed to strike out in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied and the winning run in scoring position, you have a frame of reference for Lalime's futility on this night.
You have the context, yet not the magnitude. Lalime allowed two weak goals to Joe Nieuwendyk on wrist shots from 30 feet out off the left wing that left no doubt as to the outcome of this game. When it mattered most, he surrendered goals on shots he would handle 100 percent of the time when it mattered not. For an athlete, there is no more damning an assertion.
Conversely, at the other end, his counterpart Ed Belfour was providing exactly the opposite example. He was fully composed and in control of his game, and thus his team was able to again prevail. Belfour's refinement of the art of goaltending made you look on in awe, as he continually made the difficult look pedestrian, frustrating a frantic Senators' attack while lifting the spirits of the gritty and grizzled Maple Leafs.
Sure, there were other elements at work here, but most became inconsequential due to Lalime's lamentable lapses. Sens head coach Jacques Martin had little choice but to turn to seldom-used backup Martin Prusek in goal to start the second period. Lalime's reaction to his untimely miscues was as telling as the goals themselves. Clearly rattled and with nowhere to hide, call Martin's move to Prusek a goaltending intervention.
So, the Leafs remain the one demon the Senators cannot exorcise. As a result, the Leafs carry on to play deeper into the spring, while for Lalime and the Sens, therapy is now in session.
1. Belfour: Impeccable. Goaltending at its highest form.
2. Tie Domi: Yes, there was more to this game and series than the dichotomy in goaltending, and Domi set the tone early on the forecheck for the Leafs.
3. Brian Leetch: He played his best game of the series, proving once again that world-class players save their best for when it matters most.