Maple Leafs fly high in the play-offs

ICE HOCKEY

Things are looking up for Canada in the NHL play-offs. The Toronto Maple Leafs are in the driving seat against the Chicago Blackhawks, and the Vancouver Canucks are picking up speed against the St Louis Blues.

A 3-0 victory for the Maple Leafs on Tuesday was their second straight success in Chicago and set up the possibility of a four-game sweep against the Blackhawks. Felix Potvin made 42 saves for his fourth play-off shut- out of Chicago in two years. The Maple Leafs, who won despite being outshot 42-17, are seeking their sixth successive post-season series victory over the Blackhawks since 1940.

Potvin, who posted three 1-0 wins over Chicago in last year's first-round series triumph, capped his fifth career play-off shut-out by stopping Patrick Poulin's penalty shot with 1:49 to go.

Mike Ridley stole the puck and opened the scoring with 6.8 sec left in the second period, Mats Sundin scored on a third-period power play, and Mike Gartner added the third.

The Blackhawks have lost 14 of their last 16 play-off games and are trying to avoid losing in the opening round for the third consecutive year.

The Canucks beat St Louis 5-3 to tie their Western Conference series at 1-1. Russ Courtnall had a goal and three assists, including the game-winner midway through the third period. Even though they were outshot 36-24, the Canucks dominated the last two periods. They took the lead for the first time in the series, after a total of 108min and 11sec, when Courtnall scored with a high shot from a tight angle on a 2-on-1 rush after 9:11.

Pavel Bure beat Curtis Joseph on a short-handed breakaway 1:07 later to wrap up the victory and chase Joseph. The Blues allowed only two short- handed goals all season, both in a 6-4 victory at Toronto on 5 April.

Todd Elik, the forgotten man in St Louis after being acquired from San Jose in March, led the Blues with two goals and an assist.

In other play-off action Tuesday, Detroit beat Dallas 4-1 to take a 2- 0 lead in their series. San Jose beat Calgary 5-4, to open a 2-0 advantage and setting up the Sharks' second upset in the play-offs.

Detroit cashed in on Dallas mistakes and benefited from a spectacular play from the goaltender Mike Vernon to beat the Stars. Nicklas Lidstrom scored two goals and Vernon made 20 saves in Detroit's victory.

Ulf Dahlen scored a power-play goal, at 12:21 of overtime, as the San Jose Sharks moved toward another play-off upset with their 5-4 victory over the Flames.

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