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  • Monday, May 8, 2000

    Leafs' big guns are stifled

    By MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

      EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If they don't soon start hitting the net, it won't be long before they are hitting golf balls.

     During the NHL season, Mats Sundin, Steve Thomas, Igor Korolev and Dmitri Khristich combined to score 90 goals for the Maple Leafs.

     During the first five games of their Eastern Conference semi-final against the New Jersey Devils, they have combined for zero.

     And if the Leafs don't win the next two games in this series, which they trail 3-2, this less-than-fearsome foursome will have all summer to ponder what might have been.

     "I never would have thought that those four guys, including myself, would not have scored to this point," Thomas said yesterday.

     "I'd say we are definitely accountable, given the success each of us had during the regular season, to the rest of the guys.

     "To this point, we can't just will wins. We have to go out there and do it."

     Khristich exhibited flashes of his offensive potential earlier in the playoffs, but hasn't managed to generate many scoring chances of late.

     His best opportunity against the Devils came in the first period of Game 3, when he was robbed on back-to-back shots from point-blank range by New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur.

     "They've all been pretty close games in this series, although the Devils have taken more shots on net than we have," Khristich said.

     Khristich was asked if the Leafs have been affected by injuries to Bryan Berard (eye),Yanic Perreault (knee), Nik Antropov (knee), Alexander Karpovtsev (heart), Wendel Clark (back) and Gerald Diduck (knee).

     NO EXCUSE

     "That might have something to do with (the lack of offence)," Khristich said. "But that is not the main reason. That is no excuse.

     "We've had a couple of chances, including the other night on the power play. Darcy Tucker had an open net but I couldn't get the puck through to him.

     "Really, though, we haven't been able to create enough chances."

     The power play continues to be the Achilles heel. The Leafs, who have yet to score with a man-advantage in this series, have just two power-play goals in 41 playoff opportunities -- a conversion rate of 4.9%.

     Clark's presence had provided an influx of energy on the offensive end.

     He got a standing ovation at the Air Canada Centre during Game 1 just for hitting the post, and had scoring opportunities in Games 2 and 3.

     But the back injury that kept him out of Game 5 has left him questionable for tonight.

     "It's improved a lot since (Friday)," Clark said. "It's a freak thing. We've never had these twinges and spasms before."

    NEW JERSEY VS. TORONTO

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