March 13, 2008

Stepping Up

On the road, in the back half of a home-and-home series of another must-win game, and without their captain, leader of men, and best player Mats Sundin, the Maple Leafs stepped up and departed Philadelphia victorious, 3-2.

With their season once again hanging in the balance, the Leafs dug deep, played a gritty and gutsy road game, and even held on to a third period lead (shocking, I know). They continued their chase for a playoff spot which is now only five points away.

What an effort. I'm not going to waste time and emotion wondering where this Leafs team was back in October, November, December and January. It's not worth the pain, or the tears. I'm simply going to live in the present and enjoy this team right here and right now. Let's be honest: in all likelihood, these are my playoffs.

Last night in Philly, Toronto was once again the better team, out-shooting the Flyers 31-20 and winning 34 of 66 faceoffs without Mats Sundin, who only played five minutes before leaving with a groin strain. I wasn't sure how the Leafs would react to losing their captain in such a huge game and while they did seem a bit lost after the fact, they stepped up and grinded out a win. They once again refused to mail it in. They did it for Mats, of that I have no doubt.

I've got a number of shoutouts, starting with some crazy man love for Pavel Kubina. He was instrumental in the Leafs taking three out of four points from Philadelphia to keep their fading playoff pulse alive, scoring the game winning goal the last two nights. Who wants to talk to me about Kubina's contract now? Come on, lets chat. Dude's been worth every penny since the trade deadline and played with a ton of emotion and passion over the past 48 hours. He's really stepped up and although I've said it before, I'll say it again: $5 million a year for Kubina's services is a reasonable price, and I hope he's still in a Leafs uniform next season.

Kubina's partner, and my biggest man crush of all, Tomas Kaberle was also off the charts the last two nights. Kabs logged more than 30 minutes of ice time on Tuesday, and racked up another 26 minutes yesterday. No sweat. Kabby's elevated play of late has been a monumental reason why the power play has finally begun to produce. Straight up though, is there another player in the league who rushes the puck up ice and into the opposition's zone as gracefully and with as much poise as #15 in the blue and white? I freakin' love Kaberle. I want to stand on the highest mountain and profess my undying love for him for all the world to see and hear.

I'm always a bit hard on him but Matt Stajan was huge last night. Matt freaking Stajan. What a game he played. In the absence of Sundin, Stajan saw a bulk of the captain's ice time and played what I'm sure was a season-high 21 and a half minutes. Staj also ended up taking the faceoffs Sundin normally would have. And he dominated. Stajan, who came into the game with a 47% success rate on the draw (something I've always been on his case about), won 17 of 29 faceoffs, an incredible 59%, including six of nine against Daniel Briere, that little twerp. I guess in a way I'm like my father - I'm only on hard on Stajan because I want so badly for him to succeed. But I'm always willing to show love when it's due, and Stajan deserves some serious props for his effort last night. Attaboy.

I questioned the acquisition of Dominic Moore, and even had some not-so-nice things to say about him after his first game in a Leafs uniform (I'm quick to judge), but I take them all back, and offer him my sincerest apologies. Moore played a solid 15 and a half minutes last night and was instrumental on the Leafs' second goal, driving bravely to the net and setting up Alex Postikarovsky. It was a great play as Moore showed off his wheels. Dude's been a gem off the waiver wire. He's a great checker who works hard and chips in every now and then in the offensive zone. He's just like Boyd Devereaux, and you can never have enough of those types of players on your team. I think it's safe to say he's earned a spot on next year's Leafs roster, and good on him.

It's got to be a personal record, and I pray to God I'm not jinxing him here, but after last night Carlo Colaiacovo has played in 21 games in a row. And he's been great. Part of the reason the Leafs haven't felt the absence of big Hal Gill on the blue line is because Colaiacovo has stepped up. Carlo played more than 23 and a half minutes on Tuesday night, and another 19 minutes yesterday, and he laid out R.J. Umberger with a beauty of a body check in the third period last night. I've got to give Colaiacovo props for not changing his ways. After all the injuries the poor guy has suffered, I would have completely understood if he went out there and changed his style by taking some of the physical play out of his game. But he hasn't. Not one bit. He still plays the body and looks for open ice checks. As we were with Antropov, we've got to be patient with Carlo, because he's got a bright, bright future in a Leafs uniform.

Five points out, 10 games to go. You can't lie to me and tell me you're not feeling a renewed sense of hope. You can't tell me you're not proud of the way the Leafs took care of business the last couple of nights. I know you're excited; you can't fool me. And I understand that you're scared. It's ok. I am too. But believe. Put your faith in Mats Sundin and Vesa Toskala (who was also great again last night - you spoil me, Vesa), as I have, for they are on a mission. And they won't rest until it is complete.

Bring on the Sabres.


Greener said...

Navin, dude, why didn't you tell me about this blog?!

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