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FISHER KING:

Mike Fisher proves worthy guardian of Sens' hockey Grail hopes

Canadian Press

Senators 2, Leafs 1 (2OT)

OTTAWA (CP) -- At least half of Daniel Alfredsson's latest prediction became reality Sunday night as the Ottawa Senators set up a Game 7 date with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Mike Fisher scored at 1:47 of double overtime to give the Senators a 2-1 win and evened the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at 3-3.

Alfredsson boldly stated following Ottawa's dismal performance in a 2-0 Game 5 loss on Friday that the Senators would win Sunday and go on to win the series.

"We had a lot to prove, especially after Game 5," said Fisher, who re-directed rookie Antoine Vermette's cross-crease pass behind Ed Belfour in the Toronto goal.

"It was obviously big, one of the biggest goals I've scored, but it was a whole team effort. I was just lucky to get a bounce in front and bury it."

The Leafs squandered a first-period lead on a power-play goal from Bryan McCabe, allowing Zdeno Chara to tie it in the third and force overtime.

Game 7 will be played Tuesday in Toronto at Air Canada Centre.

"Our crowd will be with us," said Leafs coach Pat Quinn. "Hopefully, we'll be a bit better than we were tonight. We tried to sit on that 1-0 (lead) a little too long. We just weren't relentless enough."

Toronto also wasted another spectacular effort by Belfour, who finished with 44 saves.

"I'm not even sure what happened, it was sort of a bang-bang play," said Belfour of Fisher's winner. "It's a tough loss. We have to play better."

Patrick Lalime stopped 27 shots for Ottawa.

Belfour had recorded his third shutout of the playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on Friday to put the Senators on the brink of elimination and Ottawa's track record when facing elimination wasn't good coming into Sunday.

It was just 2-7 all-time and its only wins came after they rallied from a 3-1 deficit in last year's Eastern Conference final against the New Jersey Devils -- a series which they eventually lost in a seventh game anyway.

"We knew we had to just go out there and do our best. I don't think we were too nervous about losing," said Alfredsson, who also correctly predicted the Senators would end Belfour's two-game shutout streak before Game 4 of the series.

They did, and came out with a 4-1 win.

The Leafs played without captain Mats Sundin for the second straight game because of an undisclosed lower-body injury. Rookie Matt Stajan filled in for him as he had in Game 5.

Quinn said Sundin is still doubtful for Tuesday's game.

Meanwhile, the Senators made a lineup change when they scratched centre Jason Spezza and replaced him with Vermette. Spezza had no points and was a minus-1 in three games.

The move was a big one as Vermette beat Leafs defenceman Aki Berg before cycling in front and setting up Fisher on the winner.

"As a coach, you need to go with your feelings," said Senators coach Jacques Martin of the lineup switch. "I just felt we needed a change."

The loss was the first for Toronto in the five playoff meetings with Ottawa that have gone to overtime.

"We'll put that one behind us and get ready for Tuesday," said McCabe. "We had our chances (but) that's the way it goes in a playoff series. You have your ups and downs."

It had been a good night for Leaf Nation, which filled about half of the arena. Peter Bondra took a double minor for high-sticking after he cross-checked Darcy Tucker in the face at 1:39 into the game.

Greg de Vries compounded the problem over a minute later by triping Joe Nieuwendyk and, with a two-minute 5-on-3 advantage, McCabe's intended pass banked off the skate of Brian Pothier and through Lalime's legs to make it 1-0 at 4:14.

Then, at 4:55 of the third and after more than five periods without a goal, Chara spoiled Belfour's bid to become the first goaltender in NHL history to record four shutouts in the same playoff series when he circled the net and fired a shot that snuck in the short side.

© Copyright 2004 The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon)

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