March 12, 2008


Wow. What a hockey game. The Toronto Maple Leafs, down 3-0 in the third period with 15 minutes left to play, refused to roll over and die. With a courageous 4-3 overtime win, the Leafs live to see another day.

That's one game, more specifically one third period, I won't soon forget. It was textbook Toronto Maple Leafs hockey: outplay and out-shoot your opponent badly, find yourself down 3-0 in the biggest and most important game of the season with the clock running out, and then roar back with a vengeance.

The table was set for the dream of sneaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed to finally and mercifully be put to rest, or so it seemed. But the Captain still had some fight in him. Sundin finally broke through the wall known as Martin Biron - what's up with these French goalies named Martin coming to Toronto and stoning the Leafs? - and got the Leafs on the board.

Then Pavel Kubina found the twine, after Sundin won an offensive zone faceoff; 3-2 Philly. This is when I started to curse. The Leafs. You know, when I figured out what the hell was going on - they were coming back. They were teasing and torturing me yet again. They would not go quietly into the night. They would not let the dream die.

Then an unlikely hero: Jeremy Williams. The sniper, summoned from the fourth line for a rare shift with Dominic Moore and Alex Steen (great hunch by Maurice), roofed one over the shoulder of Biron to tie the game at three's, with less than four minutes to play. Props out to Steen for his forechecking on the play. He was huge. Cue some serious elationage.

Then a penalty to the Flyers with exactly two minutes left to play, with the season hanging in the balance. The Leafs needed two points, and had to make sure the Flyers left with nothing but a regulation time loss.

Then Maurice pulls Toskala from the net with a minute to go, 6-on-4 man advantage Toronto. What the!?!? Cue more cursing and some serious stomach churnage.

Did you agree with Maurice's call to pull Toskala? I certainly didn't. I actually couldn't believe he did it, especially with the game tied. Tied, you know, as in not losing. Sure, Philly holds the eighth seed, but who cares about them? The Leafs need to reach 92 points, regardless of what Philly does. The Buds had a point secured and for Maurice to put it, and the season, on the line was a straight riverboat gamble. I was shocked by Maurice's move. Yes, I wondered whether he might do it but when he did, I was speechless. I was without speech. Had Philadelphia scored into the empty net - and because they were killing a penalty they were able to ice the puck, freely - the Leafs would have been toast, and I would have never been able to forgive Maurice.

A ballsy move by the coach. A really, really ballsy move. I give him mad respect on the call because it could have seriously backfired on him. I sure as hell wouldn't have been able to do it. It's clear Maurice truly believes in the motto of "no risk, no reward." But I still disagree with the decision.

It did, however, almost pay off. Hell, it probably should have. Alex Ponikarovsky had a glorious, and I mean really glorious, chance with Toskala on the bench that would have given the Leafs a 4-3 regulation win. He was all alone in front of the net, with Biron down and out, after a tremendous no-look pass by Nik Antropov. Poni had all the time in the world, but he didn't know that. Had he moved the puck to his backhand and tucked it in, the roof would have came down in the building. But he didn't, and Biron made one hell of a save on Poni's attempt, a game-saver if there ever was one.

Poor Poni. He simply cannot finish, and he rang one off the post - again! - in the first period. I know he probably didn't get a lot of sleep last night. He shouldn't have. You're still my boy, Poni, but, fuck, that was brutal.

Kubina made sure the Leafs got the two points in the end, banking the fourth and winning goal off a Flyers defenseman and behind Biron. The comeback was complete, and what a comeback it was. Say what you want about the Leafs and their difficult season, but they were full marks on the win last night. They were the better team and threw everything and the kitchen sink at Biron, who played a hell of a game for Philadelphia. They had no business escaping with their solitary point and have only their tender to thank.

Some people will say that the Leafs can't do anything right, and that losing would have been the best thing to happen last night. Not me. I don't feel anything but proud about the way the boys rallied and refused to quit, even with a 3-0 margin on the scoreboard. It says a lot about the Leafs, and especially Sundin. It's no surprise he scored the first goal of the night, and assisted on the second, to get the Leafs back into the contest. He's a gamer, pure and simple. A leader of men.

So the Leafs pick up one point in the standings on Philadelphia, and now trail the Flyers by seven points with 11 games left on the calendar. The situation is still pretty damn bleak, but the point is the Leafs are still in their bleak situation. As a fan, and a dreamer, that's all I really can ask for. If the Leafs don't make the playoffs, and it's still a mighty long shot, I'll take with me the memories of last night's game, and cherish them. It was a beauty. As exciting a third period as I've ever seen.

Of course, some people saw Toronto's comeback as another opportunity to throw salt on the Leafs' wounds. I'm looking right at you David Shoalts of The Globe and Mail. His column, "Too Little, Too Late" rips the Leafs for showing up only when it's too late, and that by giving Philadelphia a point it's all but over anyways. Hey, Shoaltsy, tell me something I don't freakin' know. He calls the Leafs' shot total "deceptive" and remarks that their comeback goals "came from a distance." Really, who gives a flying fuck "where" the goals come from?!?!? I love Shoaltsy and his work at The Globe, but that was low. It doesn't matter where the puck comes from when it goes into the net, all that matters is that it crosses the goal line. Unreal.

Throw me a bone here, Shoalts, jeezus. I watched that entire contest last night and the Leafs were all over the Flyers from the drop of the puck. Sure, it may not mean much if, and likely when, the Leafs miss the playoffs, but for one night would it have been so difficult for Shoalts to give the boys in blue and white some God damn credit for coming back when all seemed lost? I'm sure Damien Cox will be all over the Leafs this morning as well. Maybe even Dave Feschuk! Come one, come all, lets all lambaste the Leafs for showing some moxie and beating a Philadelphia team that had a 25-1-1 record when carrying a lead into the third period.

Eleven games to go. Seven points out. The goal is not to catch the Philadelphia Flyers. The goal is to reach 92 points. With 72 points to their name, and 22 points still up for grabs, the Leafs need to win 10 of 11 to close out their schedule. If they can do that, catching Philadelphia will take care of itself. And if they can do that, it will also prove, undeniably, the existence of God. So, umm, God, if you're reading, show yourself. Please. In the form of a 10 game win streak. Would appreciate it. That'd be pretty sweet. Thanks in advance, Big Guy.

Another date with the Flyers tonight. The back end of a home and home. Bring it on.

Paul Maurice said it best: "We're alive."

So is my dream...