The future was on display last night for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Led by two goals each from youngsters Jiri Tlusty and Anton Stralman, and three assists from Nik Antropov, it seems as though there may be light at the end of the long, long tunnel of disappointment.
The game, a 4-2 Leafs final and not-so-classic HNIC encounter between Toronto and Montreal, meant nothing for the home side. So it was to no one's surprise that the Leafs came flying out of the gate, out-shooting the Habs 10-2 in the first twenty minutes.
It was a surprise, however, to see Vesa Toskala still between the pipes for the Leafs, making his 30th consecutive start, even though the season is now officially a lost cause. It goes to show just how far Andrew Raycroft's stock has fallen. And it almost makes me feel bad for the guy. Almost. He's still a douche.
Raycrap will be between the pipes on Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres, and I hope the Sabres absolutely crush him. I'm thinking, like, 10-2. One of those severe beatings the Leafs are so good at taking. Lay it all on him, Buffalo. Make his final start in Toronto one he will never, ever forget.
Anyway, back to the kids. They were pretty damn good last night. At the beginning of March, Tlusty was on the fourth line, playing only a few minutes every night, leading me to question how his development was being handled. Wouldn't he be better served down on the farm with the Marlies, playing 20 minutes a night?
Tlusty will be on his way to the Marlies for their playoff run once the Leafs' season wraps up, and in recent weeks his ice time increased. In the last two games, he found himself alongside the Captain.
Well, Tlusty's made the most of his time on the first line. He scored twice on nifty deflections last night, and added an assist. It was his fourth point in the last two games. His second goal last night was his 10th of the season. Not bad for a kid playing limited minutes in his first NHL season. Hell, on some nights Tlusty was out on a line with sharp-shooter Wade Belak. Think about it, Jason Blake has 15 goals this year, only five more than our nudey-picture-taking youngster. Tlusty, only 20 years old, has a bright future and will be looked to improve on his numbers next year.
As for Anton Stralman, the Leafs are hoping they've found the next Tomas Kaberle in the smooth-skating Swedish defenceman. Kaberle was chosen with the 204th pick in the 1996 draft. Stralman was selected by Toronto in the seventh round, 216th overall. Kaberle certainly slipped through the cracks (thank God), and the Leafs are hoping they've found another diamond in the rough in young Anton.
Since the Hal Gill trade, Stralman has found himself a fixture on the Leafs blue line, and hasn't looked out of place. He can skate like the wind, can make the break-out pass, and definitely has some offensive flair. Anton's second goal of the game last night was a thing of beauty, and showed just how much talent this kid has. An end-to-end rush, Stralman finished it off with one hell of a wrist shot that hit iron and found the back of the net. Check it out:
Like Tlusty, Stralman will be counted on a lot more going forward, especially next season. I think he's played himself on to the team next year, although there should be no guarantees. We've got to keep the kids hungry. But, with that being said, if the Leafs do move one of McCabe and/or Kubina, Stralman becomes all the more important.
Before I bid you adieu, I've got to shout out Nik Antropov for his performance last night as well. He racked up three assists, upping his point total this season to 56 in 72 games. For Antropov, it has definitely been a breakout campaign, one he desperately needed for his own psyche, to prove that he can play in this league. For the Antropov haters still out there, and there are plenty, there's more to his stats than just 56 points. His +10 is tied for second-best on the team, his 12 power play goals lead the club, as do his five game winning goals. Antropov, still relatively young at 28, is a key forward for the Leafs going into next year, regardless of what anyone says. The thought of trading Antropov should not even be entertained, especially with his bargain salary of just over $2 million dollars.
It's been another cluster-fuck of a regular season here in Toronto, but last night gave me a little bit of hope. And even though he won't be the coach of the Maple Leafs much longer, Paul Maurice was right about one thing: without hope, you ain't got a damn thing.
March 30, 2008
The future was on display last night for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Led by two goals each from youngsters Jiri Tlusty and Anton Stralman, and three assists from Nik Antropov, it seems as though there may be light at the end of the long, long tunnel of disappointment.
March 28, 2008
I come to you today a broken man. It's over. Officially. The Maple Leafs have been eliminated from playoff contention. We didn't even make it to April. For the first time in 80 years, Toronto will miss the playoffs for the third straight season. Hold me...
There's not much to say, really. The writing had been on the wall for months. It still hurts though, because the Leafs put together a decent stretch of hockey and had the Bruins within their grasp going into the two-game set with Boston. It wasn't to be, however. Once again for the Leafs it was too little, too late.
There's going to be a lot of people shitting on the Leafs today and in the next couple of days. You're going to hear the "Golf Leafs Golf" bullshit, and a lot of Sundin bashing, from a lot of different people in a lot of different places. So I'll let others shit on the team. I won't do it. At least not right now. Instead, I hope the Leafs hold their heads high. It was a tough season. But I'm here for both the good and the bad, and I'm not going anywhere. It will be these last three seasons that I will appreciate the most when the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup.
Back to last night. Sundin and Antropov returned to the lineup, but it wasn't enough. I'll give Mats some props, because it was obvious he wasn't 100%. He still gave it his best shot, and picked up an assist on the night. The Leafs, who had been playing decent defensive hockey of late, allowed 10 goals in two games to Boston. That, right there, sealed their fate.
It was a 1-1 game to start the third period last night, but then it all went to hell. Fitting how it happened, actually. The Leafs were done in first by the stripes, who blew an offside call on Phil Kessel's goal that put Boston up for good. It was ridiculous how far offside Kessel actually was. Only against Toronto can a call like that be missed. Only against Toronto.
Then Ian White took a bonehead hooking penalty and Boston cashed in on the power play to make it 3-1, and lights out. The final nail was dug into the coffin on the penalty kill, something the Leafs struggled tremendously with all season.
For good measure, Pavel Kubina brought Toronto within one and kept the dream alive for, oh, about another 20 seconds. That's when Boston's Peter Schaefer scored to make it 4-2. The puck deflected beautifully off of Jason Blake's stick and into the top corner over Vesa Toskala's shoulder. If only Blake could have scored more of those types of goals on the other net.
Thank God the Boston fans didn't serenade the Leafs with the dreaded "na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey-hey-hey, goodbye!" song because, honestly, I don't think I would have been able to deal with that.
One thing I must say is that in the two most important games of the season, Tuesday and last night, Bryan McCabe did not show up. Worse than that, he played atrocious. I still don't know what he was doing on the Murray power play goal that sealed the deal for Boston.
You know, I've been a McCabe supporter during all of his struggles. I've always been in his corner. But I think I have reached my tipping point. If there is a team out there that is willing to take McCabe off our hands this off-season, the Leafs must take the offer. At this point, in my emotional state, I don't really care what it is. If the stretch run proved anything it's that Pavel Kubina is a better defenceman, both offensively and defensively, than McCabe. Kubina, with his booming shot, resurrected the dormant Leafs power play after he was put on the top unit with Kaberle. I'd rather the Leafs keep Kubina in a Toronto uniform, and move McCabe. Bryan's been a dedicated Maple Leaf since he joined the team back in 2000, but I think it's time to move on. There, I said it.
Vesa Toskala, get some rest bro. You were phenomenal. Yeomen-like work, straight up. What a goalie. Love that guy.
In all honesty, I hope the Leafs call up Justin Pogge for the final four games on the schedule. Andrew Raycroft is not going to be a part of this hockey team going forward (thank God), so there's no need for him to play. If Pogge is the future, and he most certainly has been pegged that, let's put him in there and see what he can do. The remaining games mean absolutely nothing and are the perfect opportunity to get Pogge some NHL experience before the AHL playoffs. Do it, Fletch.
These will also be Paul Maurice's final four games as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. I feel for him, I truly do, because he's such a nice guy. He's always been a great quote. I wanted him to succeed, especially because this was his dream job. It's a shame it hasn't worked out but, like McCabe, the Leafs must move in another direction.
As for Mats Sundin's future, who, other than Mats himself, really knows? I don't want to think about it. Not right now at least. I cried myself to sleep in the fetal position last night, wondering if he's going to retire or sign with another team and, man, I'm just emotionally drained right now.
It feels like its been years since I last watched a Leafs playoff game. Probably because it has. 2004. Four years ago. Jesus. I miss it. I miss it so bad.
The dream of winning a Stanley Cup with Mats Sundin, if he moves on or retires, may have died for good last night. It hasn't sunk in yet. Probably won't for a while. But on that note, I leave you with a little something poetic, from my favourite MC Talib Kweli, from the track "Everything Man" off his latest album, Eardrum:
"Yo, what becomes of a dream deferred,
That never makes it to the world to be seen or heard,
Do it breathe?
Do it got a heart beat?
Is it alive?
Do it leave, only to become a star in the sky...?"
March 27, 2008
Toronto Raptors point guard Jose Calderon is good people. With his team mired in a horrible slump - losers of 11 of their last 14 heading into last night -and at a critical point in their season, numero ocho went to the coaching staff and suggested he move back to the bench and let T.J. Ford assume the starting point guard responsibilities.
A classy and selfless move by a classy and selfless guy. I already had a ton of respect for Jose, and now I have even more. Dude is all about the team, and it's hard not to appreciate what he did. Here's what Jose had to say about it:
"I said five or six games ago, whatever we need to do, I have no problem coming from the bench. I have no problem putting the team first. And now after two tough losses I thought we could do it and see if things change a little. We talked Monday and again Tuesday morning and they agreed, with 12 games let's see if you can change things around.
"I have an ego, but my team is first. I work for the Raptors and I play for the Raptors, I don't play for Jose Calderon. What I want is to be in the playoffs, I want to have a chance to play in the second round, so I don't try to be 20 points a game or something like that. I think this is a good idea to change everything so this is something I have to do.”
Classy, eh? I told you so. Says a lot about Jose. He's not like other pro athletes out there. He's cut from a different cloth. Let's not forget that he's in a contract year. Sure, it's pretty much a formality that the Raptors will re-sign him in the summer (they can match any deal he gets), he's still in a contract year. For Jose winning is, clearly, the number one priority.
And I'm not surprised he threw in "I don't try to be 20 points a game or something like that," as a minor shot at T.J. At least that's what it looks like to me. I was telling a buddy of mine at work that whenever I watch a game in which Ford puts up 20 or more points, the Raptors lose. I think Jose has recognized the same.
The move, initiated by Jose on his own volition, also says a lot about T.J. Ford, and I'm kind of peeved with him right now. He basically sulked his way back into the starting point guard slot. His erratic play, and clear displeasure, at being second fiddle to Jose was clearly disrupting the team. Everyone knows that if Ford starts, he's on the floor with Bosh and has to share the ball, instead of chucking the rock on every possession. Since he's come back from injury Ford hasn't exactly displayed the best attitude, and never did embrace the backup role. Pretty douche bag-gy if you ask me.
It's becoming more and more clear to me that the two point guard system is not going to work here in Toronto. It can't work anywhere. Both guys are starting point guards and they know it. They both want to be starters, and I can't really blame either one for that. That's always been the goal for both of them. They're too competitive, and while I was assured yesterday that Jose is down with the team concept, it's clear that Ford isn't. He's simply not mature enough. If the Raptors have to choose which point guard to keep this summer, I think it's obvious it should be Jose. His game resembles that of Steve Nash and that's exactly who you want your point guard to be resemble.
Bottom line: Calderon is a rudey.
With the suddenly back-to-.500 Raptors desperate to turn around their fortunes, the Calderon and Ford swap wasn't the only change in the lineup last night against the Detroit Pistons, the Association's second-best team. Out of the starting lineup came Andrea Bargnani, with my main man Rasho Nesterovic taking his place. Bargnani continues to disappoint, and break my heart in the process. If you didn't get a chance to read The Globe and Mail's Michael Grange's column about the not-so-super sophomore - Whither Bargnani? - I urge you to check it out.
I guess change is good sometimes. The lineup moves paid off and the Raptors knocked off the Pistons 89-82, thanks to a huge third quarter that saw Toronto outscore Detroit 28-16. After a sluggish first half the Raps picked up the slack in the third and fourth quarters, and ended up shooting 49% from the floor. The Pistons shot only 41%. They were playing their third game in four nights but, well, that's their problem. We've got plenty of our own.
For one night, at least, the Raptors got the superb point guard play that defined their season early on this year. Caldeford (or Forderon, whichever you prefer), the two-headed point guard monster, combined for 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting, 13 assists, eight rebounds and only two turnovers. That's the kind of point guard play that will win the Raptors more games than not.
Got to shout out Rasho, of course. He was dope again last night. More than 46 minutes on the floor, 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting, nine rebounds and four blocks. He was instrumental in helping the Raptors outscore the Pistons in the paint 34-22. That is significant because the Raptors, and especially Bargnani, are pretty much allergic to the freakin' paint.
The Dinos remain in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game out of fifth place (and a date with Lebron). Up next are the New York Knicks on Friday and Western Conference leading New Orleans Hornets on Sunday. I kid you not, the Hornets are the best team in the West. And that's one mighty fine conference. If I'd have told you that New Orleans would be in first place near the end of March, you would have bitch-slapped me and called me Wanda.
With only 11 games left in the regular season, the Dinos have got to get on a roll heading into the playoffs. Thanks to Jose Calderon, the team got a huge boost last night. The world needs more pro athletes the likes of the selfless Spaniard. He's a special dude, that Jose, and what he did last night kind of makes you just feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Thanks Jose. Respect is there
March 26, 2008
The Toronto Maple Leafs' season is over. The Boston Bruins delivered the knockout blow last night. If you're like me, you are: a) drinking away the pain, and b) looking for someone to blame. Well, dear friends, look no further than the end of the Leafs' bench. Blame Andrew Raycroft.
Before I completely rip Raycroft apart, I'd like to spend a few moments discussing yesterday's game. First of all, it was atrocious. Second of all, the officiating was awful. Just awful. Thirdly, I hate the Bruins.
Really though, what a bullshit game. Boston scored some terrible goals, and Toskala didn't have a prayer on any of them. In the biggest game of the season, his teammates left him all by his lonesome in the crease. It's a testament to Vesa that the Leafs were still even in the race for the playoffs going into last night. Dude has stood on his head. Mad respect, Vesa.
Ok, somebody help me out here. What the blood clot was Mark Bell thinking last night when he took that bonehead penalty two and a half minutes into the game? It was a bogus call, but Bell should never have given the stripes the choice to call it. What an idiot. The Bruins, of course, scored on the power play and never looked back. Bell handed Boston all of the momentum on a silver freakin' platter.
I'm off Bell, huge. He should report to jail tomorrow and start serving his time. He's obviously not doing much around here. His first, and I hope only, season in the blue and white was a complete bust. He is under contract for next season, for an unworldly $2.5 million bucks, and the Leafs should buy out his contract, straight up, because he's useless.
As for the officiating, it definitely helped me in reaching for the bottle last night. An awful display, plain and simple. Sure, you can say it's typical that here I am, bitching and moaning about the officiating when the Leafs didn't show up, but, well, you're entitled to your wrong opinion. The refs blew it last night. They missed a ton of calls. Off the top of my head, Wellwood was blatantly tripped on a rush near the Boston goal in the first period and Stajan was interfered with while battling for a loose puck in the slot in the second. In both cases, no call. McCabe was given a ridiculous delay-of-game penalty after Boston went up three-love for shooting the puck over the glass. How can the call be delay-of-game when the play was dead? Unbelievable. And the goaltender interference penalty to Alex Steen in the third period was a joke as well. He was clearly pushed into Tim Thomas, yet still made an attempt to avoid hitting the Bruins keeper. If Steen wanted to, he could have killed that clown Thomas, but he still was charged with an infraction. Un-freaking-believable. Five power plays for the Bruins, including one two-man advantage, and two power plays for Toronto. Well done, stripes.
Anyway, it's all over. The Leafs had to run the table in their final nine games and, while they got off to a good start, it was an improbable mission to begin with. Toronto reminded me of a boxer who was on the ropes, continuously being beaten and knocked down, but always getting up before the count reached ten.
Well, the count reached ten last night. A spirited and gutsy effort by the Leafs the last month or so, but a TKO nonetheless. The Bruins, with 86 points, are now six points clear of Toronto and hold a game in hand. The best the Leafs can do now is finish with 90 points, and that simply won't get the job done. As most everyone predicted, the hole the Leafs dug themselves was too deep to dig out of.
While last night's contest was an extremely disheartening disappointment, it wasn't yesterday's outcome that killed the Leafs' season. It was the games they should have won back in October, November, December and January, against teams like Phoenix, Los Angeles, the Islanders, and Tampa Bay, and against goalies like Craig Anderson, Patrick Lalime, Jocelyn Thibault, Jason LaBarbera and Wade Dubielewicz, that led to their eventual demise.
The Leafs played a ton of home games in the first half of the season, but couldn't get the returns on home ice that they so desperately needed. I can't for the life of me figure out why the Leafs have struggled so much at the Air Canada Centre in the last couple of years. Under Pat Quinn, the Leafs couldn't be fucked with at home. We were dynamite. Not anymore. It may have something to do with the fact that the atmosphere at the Hangar is about as lively as a funeral. I don't know, but even after last night's debacle, the Leafs own a better road record than they do a home record. Toronto's 17 victories on home ice is the lowest of any team in the Eastern Conference. With that in mind, it's no surprise they won't be going to the dance and hitting golf balls instead.
A lot of players on this year's Leafs team underperformed and underachieved. Perhaps no one more so than Andrew Raycroft. Actually, screw the word "perhaps," it was Raycroft who sucked the most. Without a capable backup goalie, Vesa Toskala was forced to carry the load and, while he made a valiant effort, he couldn't single-handedly take the Leafs to the playoffs. Think about it, with a half-decent backup goalie the Leafs would have picked up another three, four, or five wins, and would likely be where Boston is today in the standings; in the playoffs.
While guys like Jason Blake and Bryan McCabe didn't light up the score sheet as most people, including myself, expected them to do so, at the end of the day there is no position more important in hockey, and probably all of sport, than that of goaltender. You live and die by your backstop. You can only go as far as your goalie takes you. You've heard all the bloody cliches. So, if there's one person that deserves the lion's share of the blame this season, it's Raycroft.
Now I know that Toskala didn't exactly come storming out of the gate this year. He struggled in the pre-season and early on in October and November, and lets not forget that Raycroft actually started Toronto's season and home opener against the Ottawa Senators (and blew a third period lead in the game). Raycroft had every opportunity to be the number one goalie, or at worst split the duties down the middle with Toskala, but, as usual, he couldn't deliver, because he is one pathetic mother sucker.
Raycroft's stats speak for themselves, and they are straight ugly. Crazy ugly. Brace yourselves.
A win-loss record of 2-8-4, a 4.07 goals against average, and a dry-heaves inducing .868 save percentage. Raycroft has played a total of 17 games this season, 14 as a starter, and has won a grand total of two of them. Two wins. In 17 God damn games. Of the 14 games he started, he was pulled in three of them. That means he was yanked in 21% of the games he started, folks. That just isn't right. The last game Raycrap was called upon to start was on January 20th against New Jersey, a 3-2 loss, more than two months ago. The last time he saw any action at all was on February 5th against the Florida Panthers, when the Leafs got their asses handed to them 8-0. Raycroft came on in relief of Toskala that night, and allowed four goals on 11 shots. We learned, once and for all that night, that Raycroft certainly does not spell "relief." Even more astonishing than all of the above is that the last game that Raycroft actually won was on November 9th, 2007, more than four and a half months ago, when he shutout the Buffalo Sabres 3-0. The Sabres should be deeply, deeply ashamed of themselves, and should still be having nightmares about that game.
Like I said, there's a ton of blame to go around the Toronto Maple Leafs locker room. The season has been another colossal failure. I am simply choosing to throw most of the blame on Raycroft's shoulders. You know, because I hate him. After reading the above I think you'll understand why Raycroft sits at the end of the bench, night in and night out, with his hat pulled down so low on his brow. If I were him, I'd have trouble looking people in the eye, too. What a douche bag if there ever was one.
It will certainly be interesting to see whether Raycroft gets any action now that the Leafs have all but been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. I'm as big a dreamer as they come, but even I know that Toronto is done. Personally, I think Toskala deserves a break. He's earned one. I just don't think Raycroft should be the one to give him a rest. I'd rather Cliff Fletcher call up Justin Pogge, or even Scott Clemmensen, and stick him between the pipes. Anyone but Andrew Raycroft. He does not deserve to play another game for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not this season, certainly not next season, not ever.
With an NHL-calibre backup goalie at their disposal, the Leafs wouldn't find themselves on the outside looking in on the playoffs today. Instead, they'd probably be gearing up for a first-round showdown with the Montreal Canadiens.
Fuck you, Andrew Raycroft. See you in hell.
March 25, 2008
As a young boy growing up in Toronto, I fell in love with the game of hockey. Watching the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux ply their trade was something I'll never forget. Those two players are, and always will be, synonymous with hockey greatness, along with one more: Bobby Orr.
Number four. The man whom Don Cherry says is the greatest hockey player to ever lace up a pair of skates. Of course, I never got to see Orr play. He was before my time. But many didn't get the chance either, as wonky knees robbed Orr of his prime years, and forced him into retirement at the unbelievably young age of 31.
Bobby Orr, the kid from Parry Sound, turned 60 last week. For those that were lucky enough to watch him play, it seems like only yesterday that he did. Last night on TV Ontario's The Agenda With Steve Paikin Globe and Mail sports columnist Stephen Brunt, whose work I thoroughly enjoy both at The Globe and on McCowan's Prime Time Sports, sat down with Steve Paikin to talk about the great Bobby Orr, the man and the myth.
As a self-proclaimed hockey nut, and a religious watcher of Hockey Night In Canada, I've always had a good idea of who Bobby Orr is and what he did for the game of hockey. In all honesty though, I never knew how good he really was on the ice. His statistics blew me away.
In only 657 career NHL games, Orr racked up an incredible 915 points (270 goals, 645 assists). Don't forget, Orr was a defenceman. He revolutionized the position, and is one of the few who changed the game as we know it. Orr also contributed when it mattered most, registering 92 points in 74 career playoff games, and winning two Stanley Cups.
Orr's records speak for themselves. He was the first defenceman to score 20 goals in a season, and the first player, at any position, to ever win three straight MVP awards.
When New York Rangers defenceman Brian Leetch tallied 102 points in the 1991/1992 NHL season, I remember being blown away by his scoring prowess from the defence position. Well, Leetch's 102 points had nothing on Orr. From 1969 to 1975, Orr had seasons of 120, 139, 117, 101, 122, and 135 points respectively. Simply phenomenal numbers.
Unfortunately, after his 135-point 1974/1975 season, Orr's injured knees limited him to only 36 games over the next three years. In 1979 Orr, hockey's brightest star, was forced to walk away from the sport in his prime.
Gordie Howe, Mr. Hockey himself, has called Orr's premature retirement "the greatest blow the National Hockey League has ever suffered."
Orr was definitely one of the best hockey players to ever play the game, and I hope you'll click here to watch the interview with Stephen Brunt, author of "Searching For Bobby Orr," or download the podcast, to learn more about #4's life, and what he means to Canadian culture.
And before I forget, happy belated birthday Bobby Orr.
March 24, 2008
It only took 70 plus games but, to a man, the Toronto Maple Leafs are finally pulling their weight. The Leafs went into Buffalo and Ottawa over the weekend, two buildings where they haven't had much success over the years, and came out with two improbable wins including Saturday night's thriller which I'm still pumped about.
March 21, 2008
How god-awful are the Miami Heat? Coming off a five game losing streak and a 2-8 record without CB4 in the lineup, there was no better cure for what was ailing the Toronto Raptors than the so-called "basketball team" from the sunny confines of south Florida.
The Raps, with Bosh back in the lineup, opened up a can of whoop ass against the Heat on Wednesday night, the likes of which haven't been seen around these parts before. It was the biggest win in Toronto franchise history, a 42-point margin with a final score that read 96-54. The Raptors scored more points in the first half - 58 - than the Heat managed all game. If that doesn't blow you away, this should: Chuck Swirsky brought out the salami and cheese with three minutes left...in the second quarter.
It's been a tough season for Miami. Those of us who play sports have all been in the situation where the team you're up against is just a gazillion times better than yours. You know it, the opposition knows it, and you don't have a prayer. It's not fun, and I can't imagine Wednesday night was for anyone involved with the Miami organization - players, coaches and fans. The Heat's 54 points were the third-lowest in NBA history and they shot an unbelievable 26% from the floor. What a bunch of chucker's. I'm not sure the Heat roster could beat any one of the NCAA college squads. They're that bad.
Anyways, Bosh is back, and it will be interesting to see if the Raptors struggles are behind them. With only a handful of games left in the season and the team only two games above .500, I'm not sure how high expectations can really be going into the playoffs.
Perhaps the recent dive in the standings - thanks to a Bosh-less roster and a seriously erratic T.J. Ford - is a blessing in disguise. Perhaps more losses is exactly what this team needs in order to, well, I'll be honest, avoid the Cleveland Cavaliers and King James in the playoffs.
The Eastern Conference is downright brutal, so there's no worries about missing the playoffs. The New Jersey Nets are proud owners of a 29-39 win-loss record and currently occupy the eighth and final playoff spot. That is sad. By comparison, the Denver Nuggets of the supreme Western Conference, who spanked the Raptors last week, own a 40-28 record - 12 freakin' games over .500! - and they're two and a half games out of a playoff spot. It just goes to show that life isn't fair.
If the season ended today the Dinos would open the playoffs on the road in Cleveland. Not good. Nobody can guard Lebron, especially the Raptors. And LBJ has been known to light it up at the Air Canada Centre. We must avoid the King, at all costs. The Orlando Magic, whom the Raptors line up much better against, are comfortably in third place in the East, trailing Detroit by five games and ahead of the Cavs by five and a half. With that being said, the Raptors need to finish sixth. Straight up. Let the Washington Wizards and super douche Gilbert Arenas, who trail the Raptors by only half a game in the standings, deal with Lebron.
I hate to say that I want the Raptors to lose, but I really don't want to see a first-round match up with Lebron James. The Raptors are still a couple of pieces away from being a true contender and this is another "gain some playoff experience" year, but they've got to make it out of the first round to gain said experience. Against LBJ and the Cavs, that ain't happening.
On to the title of this post. It's time to show some love to Rasho Nesterovic. Although the Raptors got their tails handed to them while Bosh was out, Rasho was awesome in his absence. If former Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Frank Catalanotto is a "professional hitter," then my main man Rasho is a "professional baller." He never complains about playing time but is always ready when called upon. He's a pro and he goes out on the floor and competes. Rasho has seen limited minutes this year as the super inconsistent Andrea Bargnani starts every night but going forward, if the Raptors want to win a playoff round, Rasho has to play. Plain and simple.
In the 10 games that Rasho started while Bosh dealt with his knee injury, he was workmanlike and consistent in his contributions. He averaged 13.2 points and 7.3 rebounds a night as a starter and shot a beautiful 53.7% from the field. Rasho can still bring it at both the offensive and defensive end. He commands respect and really sets the tone for the Raptors defense, and that's huge because if there's one thing the Raptors can't do, it's defend and rebound.
Wednesday night in the practice against the Heat, with SMitch easing Bosh back into the lineup, Rasho played 30 minutes, scored 12 points on six-of-nine shooting, and picked up four rebounds, four assists and three blocks. I love Rasho Nesterovic.
In the playoffs last year against the Nets, Rasho started the first four games of the series. However, his minutes went down after the second game. He only played a touch under 11 minutes in game four, less than two minutes in game five, and didn't get on the floor in the sixth and final game of the series. Sam Mitchell, I demand more Rasho in this year's playoffs. He's clearly still got game and for a big man has some pretty good range. He can hit the long jumper and has even got a sweet hook shot.
As you can see, I'm big on Rasho Nesterovic. And you should be too. He's a professional baller and can only help the Toronto Raptors.
On that note, it's the long weekend, so I'm off to the great city of Cleveland, Ohio, to take in the Raptors and Cavaliers game (yes, it's true, I will be missing the Leafs game). And for the record, I'm not going to see Lebron. I'm going to see Rasho.
Oh, and I'm with Doug Smith. The boo-age by Raptors fans against the Heat, because they didn't score 100 points to get the fans their precious pizza, was lame. Seriously lame. The Raptors won by 42 points for Christ's sake, and they were booed? Come on Toronto, we're better than that. That's something the folks over in Ottawa or Montreal would do.
March 18, 2008
I'm running out of cliches when it comes to the Maple Leafs' playoff push. After another Tuesday night come-from-behind special, the Leafs live to see another day (how do you like that one?).
If you missed the game, you missed one hell of a goal by the New York Islanders. A real doozy. I've been watching hockey a long, long time and have never seen a goal like the one Rob Davison scored last night. It was probably the ugliest goal I have ever seen in my life. If you missed it, here it is in all its glory.
Ugly eh? I told you so. A hop, skip, jump and a right turn - "in mid air, mind you" - and into the net.
The goal, and how he reacted to it, said a lot about Vesa Toskala. A lesser goalie (ie: Andrew Raycroft) wouldn't have been able to rebound and finish the rest of the contest off strong. Toskala, however, is the real deal. He shook it off, and took the goal for what it was - a complete and utter fluke - and kept the Leafs in the game until they woke up in the third period. He made some big saves, especially a beauty late in the third on Mike Comrie. I have crazy man love for Toskala. He's a true rudey, and has been a bright, shining light in another dark season for Toronto.
Going into the third period down 1-0, I figured this was how the Leafs season would come to an end. At the hands of the Islanders and Wade Dubielewicz again, just like last season (a part of me died last April when Dubie and the Isles beat the Devils on the final day of the regular season - in a bloody shootout to boot - to deny the Leafs a playoff berth).
To add insult to injury, the winning goal was going to be Davison's bouncer, or so I thought. I think it would have been kind of fitting, though, to go down like that, you know? To suffer another heartbreaking defeat in Long Island thanks to a goal that would most certainly serve as a microcosm for a season gone so horribly wrong.
But like Vanessa Williams, the Leafs saved their best for last. Huge shoutouts to my boy Kyle Wellwood who had a monster third period, scoring the tying goal on a beauty deflection while driving hard to the net, and assisting on Pavel Kubina's game-winning power play tally.
Wellwood has taken a lot of heat this year, especially in the blogosphere. I know the gentlemen at He Score, He Shoot! really hate the guy, but I still have faith in the little magician and believe he is an integral piece of the Leafs puzzle going forward.
Welly's been bad this year. Ok, he's been really bad. Alright, he's been downright awful. His numbers - 7 goals, 11 assists (that's 18 points, you math whiz) in 55 games - reflect just that. It's been a trying season for him and he's found himself in Paul Maurice's doghouse more often than not. He's been benched on numerous nights (on Saturday against Buffalo he played less than 10 minutes and didn't see the ice in the third) and has even watched a few contests from the press box. A restricted free agent at the end of the season, I believe Wellwood will be brought back next year. He's too young and has too much talent to be given up on. The Leafs cannot let an asset like Wellwood walk out of their life, or mine. No way.
Much has been made of Welly's work ethic, or lack there of, but he's coming off two abdominal surgeries and has only recently been looking like his old self out there. He looked great last night, although the Islanders weren't exactly a most-formidable opponent (read: they really suck). Personally, I think Welly's played half-decent hockey the last two weeks. He deserves another shot and with a new head coach likely behind the bench next year, it's crucial that Wellwood at least gets an opportunity to be a top-six forward here in Toronto. God knows he has the talent. Remember, we must be patient with the young ones. It's a process.
I've also got to show some more love to Pavel Kubina, who potted his fourth goal, and third game-winner, in the past four games. One thing I love about Kubby is his penchant to shoot the puck, especially on the power play. He's got a bullet from the point and when Kaberle links him with a soft pass, he puts his head down and lets it go. Kubina's making a strong case that the Leafs shouldn't get rid of him this off-season, and that's fine by me. Mulligans all around, please!
Another game in the books, and another injury as well. Yep, it is who you think it is: Carlo Colaiacovo. This time it's a hamstring injury and by the looks of the injury and the amount of pain Carlo was in, he's going to be out for the rest of the season. Poor Carlo. It's hard not to feel for him. What he's going through just isn't fair, for any hockey player. Keep your head up Carlo, your spot on the blue line will be waiting for you when you return. I'm not sure who will get the call from the farm in Carlo's place. Possibly Staffan Kronwall? Or Jay Harrison?
Without Sundin and Antropov in the lineup the Leafs were able to grind out a win last night. It sure as hell wasn't pretty but the Leafs were never big on style to begin with. Unfortunately, the Flyers beat the pathetic Atlanta Thrashers and remain in 8th place, six points ahead of Toronto. With eight games to go and no option but to win all of them, the Leafs are in need of some serious divine intervention.
Next up are those dirty little Buffalo Sabres, again, on Friday night at HSBC Arena. An effort like last night's just won't cut it against Buffalo, who trail the Flyers by only three points and who will certainly come out hungry and flying against the Leafs. The Buds will be looking to keep their season alive and one thing's for certain, the atmosphere in Buffalo will be electric.
Until Friday my friends.
March 16, 2008
Painful loss last night by the Maple Leafs in more ways than one. It took a hell of a lot longer than I thought, but Nik Antropov has finally been injured. A knee injury to boot. His was a run that was good while it lasted. I hope you enjoyed it.
Already missing Sundin from the lineup, once Niky went down the Leafs didn't have much of a prayer. A win minus the big Swede and the lanky Kazakh, who have 58 goals and 129 points between the two of them, was too tall an order for the remaining Maple Leafs.
The Buffalo Sabres, also fighting for their playoff lives, came out hungrier and harder and were full marks for a 6-2 win. They did score some hella cheap goals, though, so I can't blame Vesa back there (not that I ever would).
Toskala does, however, look a bit tired. Can't blame him for that, either. Vesa has started 57 games for the Leafs this season, including something like the last 22 or 23 in a row. His previous career-high in starts? Thirty-three, established last year with San Jose. His workload has increased tremendously as he's now a full-fledged number one goalie in the NHL. This is new territory for the Leafs backstop. He's got to be feeling a bit worn down. It's a shame the Leafs don't have a half-decent backup goalie that could give him a rest here and there. Stupid Raycrap.
Enough about last night. The Leafs are still mathematically alive. The Flyers got their asses handed to them today by the Penguins so it's still Philly we're chasing. Six points out, with nine games to go. Play time's over. The Leafs have to run the table from here on out. Next up are the Islanders on Tuesday in Long Island, likely without Sundin and Antropov. Possibly even Colaiacovo. Start praying.
On to one juicy rumour about our beloved Captain. Full disclosure: the source is Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun. The same Steve Simmons who said last summer that Sundin needed potentially career-ending hip surgery. It's funny that after that story was proven to be false, Sundin has gone out and, with very little skill around him, has had his best season in, oh, about 10 years. It's also comedic that Simmons still has his job.
Anyways, I'll leave the Simmons bashing to CoxBloc. They're much better at it than me. Here's what the douche bag had to say: the Montreal Canadiens, for the services of the great leader of men known as Mats Sundin, offered Toronto winger Christopher Higgins and their first, second and third-round draft picks. Toronto agreed, but Sundin refused to go.
My initial reaction: "Wow."
If it's true, that's a mighty decent offer. Higgins is a 20-goal scorer who has a bright future in front of him. And three draft picks, including a first-rounder, are exactly what the Leafs need going forward.
My second reaction: "Would it have been so bad for Mats to have gone to Montreal for a few months?"
I know. It's a terrible thought. A selfish thought. I'm so sorry, Mats.
My third reaction: "The Leafs trading their Captain, Mats freakin' Sundin, to the Canadiens!? How weird would that have been?"
Imagine, eh? Sundin in a Montreal uniform and going to the playoffs. It would have been something else. Again, because it's Simmons, I'm loathe to believe it. We must not give him the benefit of the doubt. He works for the Sun, after all.
In the end, Sundin had every right to use his no-trade clause, and he did. And like I wrote about before, I can't be, and am not, mad at him about it. Since his refusal to leave Toronto, Sundin has been on an absolute tear - 18 points in 9 games - in trying to single-handedly take the Leafs to the playoffs.
Bottom line? Sundin's a Toronto Maple Leaf. Not a Montreal Canadien. And I love him for that. Because it's the truth. He's no Hab.
One thing's for certain, though: had Sundin agreed to be traded to Montreal, and Kaberle to Philly for Jeff Carter and a first-round pick, winning the Steve Stamkos sweepstakes would have been a realisitic goal. The Leafs, as they proved last night, are pretty much nothing without #13 in the lineup.
My final reaction about Sundin in the bleu, blanc et rouge, playing in the always sold-out and loud-as-hell Bell Centre in Montreal during the playoffs: it might have been pretty cool. No, you sickos, not for Montreal and their fans.
For Mats. As the sun begins to set on what has been a marvellous career, he deserves every opportunity to play for hockey's greatest prize.
(PS: keep the faith...)
March 13, 2008
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.
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...
March 09, 2008
I've got a math question for you: what does snowed in by another freak snowstorm plus a heartbreaking 2-1 Toronto Maple Leafs loss to the New Jersey Devils equal?
The answer, my friends, is alcohol. A little bit of The Famous Grouse (respect Alz) followed by some good old Alexander Keith's. It sucked to be a Torontonian yesterday. On multiple levels.
The Maple Leafs season was on life support heading into last night's matchup with the Devils. Toronto's loss, combined with a Philly Flyers win, means the Leafs are eight points out of the eighth and final playoff spot with only 12 games to go. And the Flyers have a god damn game in hand.
The Leafs are taking their final breath. It's all but over, and only a formality now. I would have loved for the Leafs to prove all the douche bags out there wrong and go on a fairytale-like run, but they've got to pretty much run the table from here on out to really have a shot at making the post-season. The odds of that happening? About as good as me giving up The Famous Grouse - not bloody likely!
I hate Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils. When the Leafs used to be a decent hockey club, it was the Devils and Brodeur whom the Leafs could never beat. These days, it's the same old story. The Devils, thanks to the exploits of Brodeur, beat the Leafs twice this week by a combined score of 6-2, and killed my dreams of the Leafs making the playoffs, illegitimate as they may have been.
New Jersey beat Toronto in all four meetings this season (Raycrap was in net for one of them, so they really only beat us three times). Brodeur was en fuego in the two games this week, stopping 83 of 85 shots the Leafs fired at him. What a bastard.
The Devils continue to be, well, the Devils. You would think they'd have taken a hit in the standings these last few years after losing Scott Stevens to retirement, Scott Niedermayer to Anaheim and Brian Rafalski to Detroit. Their defense is nothing like what it used to be, yet there they are in first place in the Eastern Conference, where they always seem to be. Jersey has only allowed an Eastern Conference low, and second-fewest overall, 159 goals against (Detroit's first in the league with 151). To compare, the Leafs have allowed 216 goals on the season, a startling 57 more than New Jersey. Your lesson for the the day? Defense wins championships. You're welcome.
Last night's game was a microcosm of the Leafs season. A hot goaltender, three goal posts, and a late goal in the third period to seal Toronto's fate. I know God has better and more important things to do (like get Barack Obama into the White House - "Yes We Can!") but the Leafs could have used Him tonight. The Leafs outplayed the Devils in the first period and hit three goal posts behind Brodeur, but went into the intermission trailing 1-0. If one of those shots went off the post and in, it would have been a different hockey game.
But such is the life of a Leafs fan: should have, could have, would have. Didn't.
The Leafs tied up the game, as I knew they would, in the third period thanks to Mats Sundin. Who else? Sundin always scores the clutch goals when the team needs one. Since refusing to be traded, Sundin has been on a mission to get the Leafs to the playoffs. He's played inspiring hockey and was last week's NHL Star of the Week, but it just hasn't been enough. He can't do it alone. If only he had some support. *Sigh*
The Leafs and Devils were headed to overtime, or so I thought, until the Leafs fucked up again with just under a minute to play. It's no wonder they won't be going to the playoffs. I can't even remember how many times the Leafs have given games, and points, away in the final few minutes this season. It's appalling. I will, however, share some of the blame tonight with the referees. Zach Parise's second goal, the eventual game winner, shouldn't have counted. Jamie Langenbrunner, whom I loathe, interfered with Vesa Toskala when he jabbed him with his stick and pushed him into the net. Of course no penalty was called on the play, Parise banged in the loose disc with Toskala down and out, and the Leafs suffered another crushing and demoralizing defeat to effectively end their season.
I miss Leafs playoff hockey. Truly, Madly, Deeply. Savage Garden type shit, man. It blows. Hockey's a game of inches, and all the inches this year have added up to one extremely frustrating season, and a whole lot of empty Alexander Keith's bottles.
After the game, Carlo Colaiacovo kept it real.
''It's going to be hard for a lot of us to sleep tonight. We let another one get away," he said.
My thoughts exactly...