TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs had inspiration on their side. The Carolina Hurricanes had Arturs Irbe.
Irbe stopped 31 shots in a 3-0 Hurricanes victory on Thursday, dousing whatever emotional boost the Maple Leafs had in welcoming back coach Pat Quinn. Quinn made a surprising return after spending the past two days in hospital because of an irregular heartbeat.
Sami Kapanen and Ron Francis each had a goal and assist, while Jaroslav Svoboda also scored to give the Hurricanes a 3-1 lead in the NHL Eastern Conference finals.
The best-of-seven series resumes at Carolina on Saturday, where the Hurricanes can clinch their first Stanley Cup finals berth.
Irbe, nicknamed ''Archie,'' came up with his best performance of the postseason, recording his first career playoff shutout.
''I think the reason (we won) is sitting next to me,'' Hurricanes captain Ron Francis said, seated next to Irbe during a post-game press conference. ''We didn't play enough to win that rocky game. Archie stole it for us.''
Added Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice: ''Everybody in our organization has a piece in the winning, and Archie had a great big fat piece of that one tonight.''
In the first period, the Maple Leafs outshot the Hurricanes 9-1, but Irbe was on form, even stopping Alexander Mogilny's backhander from in close.
Irbe got help from defenseman Bret Hedican six minutes into the second period. Irbe got part of Mogilny's shot, allowing the rebound to dribble into the crease, which Hedican swept away.
Irbe saved his best for last, recording two huge stops four minutes into the third period with Carolina clinging to a 1-0 lead.
Irbe got his right pad out to stop Tomas Kaberle's point shot, which was deflected in front. He then dove to his right to stop Jonas Hoglund's attempt at the rebound.
''As the game went on, I got a couple of lucky saves,'' Irbe said modestly. ''As it goes longer, the better you feel. And in the end, it was fun.''
It was no fun for the Maple Leafs, who lost their third straight game despite having the familiar Quinn to direct them. Quinn was released from the hospital 2 1/2 hours before game time and headed straight for the arena.
Quinn received a standing ovation before the game, and showed he hadn't lost his edge. He was spotted chewing out Toronto center Alyn McCauley on the bench at the end of the first period.
But the Maple Leafs failed to respond.
''We really wanted to win this game for him,'' Leafs captain Mats Sundin said. ''We had the right focus, and I thought we had the work ethic. We just couldn't finish it off.''
The Maple Leafs have managed little offense against Carolina.
''Four goals in four games won't get you to the Stanley Cup finals,'' Sundin said. ''At this point, we'll take anything. We need to get an ugly one.''
Carolina's goals were both ugly and timely.
In the first period, the Hurricanes were outplayed and had to kill off three straight penalties. But they responded with a barrage of shots on Toronto goalie Curtis Joseph during a power play with 2:10 remaining in the period.
Kapanen set in motion Svoboda's goal for a 1-0 lead when he chased down a loose puck deep in the Toronto end, and sent the puck back to Sean Hill at the point. Hill's shot was blocked by Joseph, who couldn't handle the rebound. Svoboda got two whacks at the puck, stuffing the second one in through Joseph's legs.
Kapanen made it 2-0 with 8:19 remaining, ending a 16-game playoff goal drought, dating to April 20, 2001. Francis pounced on Anders Eriksson's weak pass behind the Toronto net, and fed the puck in front where Kapanen lifted a shot over Joseph's left shoulder.
It was the first time either team had a two-goal edge in the series after the first three games ended with 2-1 scores. Carolina won the two previous games in overtime.
Francis sealed the win, capitalizing on a two-man advantage after the Maple Leafs lost their composure with 2:25 left.
''It's hard to explain. It wasn't our finest game,'' Maurice said. ''On the upside, we won 3-0.''
Quinn returned to hospital following the game, and it has not yet been determined whether he'll be able to travel to Carolina for Game 5.
''I feel fine,'' Quinn said in a statement released by the NHL. ''I wouldn't have shown up if I wasn't assured everything was fine.''
Notes: Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford is confident that Francis, the team's captain, will remain in Carolina next season. ''We've had enough conversations that I feel pretty confident,'' Rutherford said of keeping Francis, who holds the option on the final year of his contract. ... Mogilny (upper body injury), who leads the team with eight playoff goals, played despite not finishing Game 3. ... Hurricanes D David Tanabe (broken wrist), who hasn't played since the playoff opener, has resumed practicing.
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