March 25, 2007

Down, But Not Out...

Honestly, what can I say about Friday night's pathetic display by the Maple Leafs? I'm not sure who the voice of NBA Jam was, but whenever I threw up a brick, all I heard was:

"What a debacle!"

That's all I can say about Friday's third period. The Leafs were up 4-1 and had two points in the bag, and they self-desctructed. A 5-4 loss and two HUGE points lost in the standings. Two points the Leafs will surely look back upon as possibly the ones that cost them the season.

How a team can blow a 4-1 lead with 15 minutes left in the game is beyond me, but if any team can do it, it's the Toronto Maple Leafs. Shame on them. Shame on the Leafs for playing their worst 20 minutes all year when it mattered the most. Shame on Paul Maurice for not making a goalie change or calling a time-out. I think he was just as dumb-struck as I was that the Leafs blew the lead, because it's unfathomable that he didn't do anything to stop Buffalo's momentum and calm his boys down. Shame on Andrew Raycroft. I don't care how the goals go in, if a team gives its goalie a 4-1 lead with 15 minutes left, he's got to shut it down, anyway, anyhow, no questions asked.

A part of me was hoping the Leafs would lose last night. A part of me wanted to look back upon March 24th, 2007 as the day the dream - the Stanley Cup Dream of 2007 - died. The day the Leafs' playoff aspirations were dashed. After Friday night's performance I honestly just wanted to be put out of my misery. It's like I've been dying a slow and agonizing death. I wanted that fatal blow to be dropped upon me. I just wanted it to be over.

But no, the Leafs, once again, won't go quietly into the night, and I won't go quietly with them. Ironically, the Leafs were up 4-1 Saturday night, with 15 minutes left to play. Would they self-destruct again?

Friday night was, and let's be honest, one of those freak games. A freak comeback by the Sabres. It just happened at the most inopportune time, when it comes to Maple Leaf standards. The Leafs needed those two points, but it just wasn't meant to be. There's not much than can be done or said. Actually, nothing can be done.

A loss is a loss. It happened in shocking and dramatic fashion, but at the end of the night, it's a loss, just like all the other ones the Leafs have had this year.

Shit happens. You've just got to deal with it. The road to the playoffs is a lot more difficult at this point, after Friday's loss, but it is what it is.

The Leafs head into next week two points out of the 8th, and final, playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They took four out of a possible six points against New Jersey and back-to-back games against the Sabres. Not bad. Not bad at all. A loss is a loss is a loss. The Leafs forgot about it, bounced back, and are still in the race. I'm not sure I can ask for much else. Well, I could ask for a bloody playoff spot, but I guess that would just make me greedy.

Friday night is done and gone. Now it's all about next Tuesday, and a date with the 8th seed Carolina Hurricanes. That game, my friends, is the season. If the Leafs lose, they are all but officially done. If they win, they live to fight another day. This is the predicament the Leafs find themselves in. Lose and it's over, or win and nothing is guaranteed, but just another day to fight.
I commend the Leafs' fighting spirit. If they go down - it's actually more of a "when" - I'll be glad that they went down with a fight. It doesn't matter how bad a team goes out, nobody wants to bow down like bitches. You fight, until that last drop of blood has seeped out your skin, until that last breath has escaped your body.

This is all we, fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, are left with. These last seven games of the regular season - these are my playoffs. I want the Leafs to scrap, compete and battle like every remaining game is game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, until the team is officially eliminated from post-season play. I want everything left on the ice. If the Leafs don't make the playoffs, so be it. I'll be content knowing that they went down giving it all they've got.

I'll give the team credit for bouncing back after such a demoralizing loss Friday night. I had to drink away the pain of Friday night's loss, and I'm sure guys like Darcy Tucker did as well.

Tuesday night's tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes looms large. There hasn't been playoff hockey in Toronto in two years, and we're on the brink of making it three years. I'll take Tuesday night's game as the playoff game of 2007. I'm looking forward to it.

I don't want the playoff race to end. I want the battle to rage on. I want it to come down to the last game of the regular season against the Montreal Canadiens. Win, and get in, or lose and go home. I want all the chips to be on the table. All-in, baby. I want it to come down to the final 60 minutes, and may the best team go on. Even after Friday's crushing defeat, I'm not ready to fold just yet, and if Saturday night was any indication, either are the Maple Leafs.

Cheers to the Leafs and all their fans out there. Here's to a couple more nights of simply staying alive. I'll take it.

Goodnight, Toronto...