Forget about tanking. Forget about John Tavares. Start thinking about the playoffs.
After last night's magical come-from-behind overtime victory against the Ottawa Senators, with Curtis Joseph between the pipes no less (the Sens and their "fans" should be deeply ashamed), our Maple Leafs find themselves only seven points out of 8th, and eight points out of 7th, in the Eastern Conference.
It's the longest of long shots, but this Leafs team could actually make the playoffs. Believe it.
Want to know why? Vesa Toskala. The fashion-forward Finn put together one incredible month of hockey in February. He started nine games, and finished the abbreviated month with an unblemished regulation time record of 5-0-3. When he was the goalie of record, the Leafs picked up points in the standings. His save percentage, you ask? A tidy .912.
It was his most productive month, by far. Here's hoping his save percentages of .887 in January, .875 in December, and .878 in November remain a distant memory.
Confidence starts and ends in the blue paint. When Toskala is on his game, and cutting his angles aggressively, the Leafs are a stingy team to beat. Period. The fact that Toronto has earned points in 12 of their last 15 games proves it.
Think about it: had Toskala been playing this way all season, the Leafs would likely be in the thick of the playoff race. This team has no trouble scoring goals - nine guys have registered 10 or more. It's keeping the puck out of their own net - keeping Vesa's legs closed - that has been the problem.
Let's face it, if you think the Leafs have a shot at John Tavares, and have had one all season, you're on the opposite end of the delusional spectrum as me. While you're dreaming of a high draft pick, I'm dreaming of an incredible late season run led by a rejuvenated and motivated Toskala and co.
Look, this doesn't have to be a lengthy rebuild. The Leafs have some pieces in place. I don't know about you, but a defence core next season with a top-four of Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Luke Schenn and Mike Van Ryn sounds pretty good to me. Throw in the incredible Ian White, who leads the team with a +11, and the most expensive sixth d-man in Jeff Finger, and the back end looks even better; strong, I must say.
Let's re-sign Nik Antropov, and Dommy Moore. And keep Kaberle, and Kubina, who is playing with incredible passion right now. Let's throw some of the cash we've got this summer Mike Cammalleri's way. Or Alex Tanguay's way. Or the Sedin twins' way. We've got options.
The way I see it, the Leafs are a top goalie away from competing in the Eastern Conference. And the way Toskala has played of late has me once again believing he can be that top goalie. Maybe even this season.
Fuck tanking. When the Leafs play, they play to win. They're playing with pride these days, and I'm rooting for them to win every single time I watch them. In the end, no matter where the Leafs end up drafting, they will have the opportunity to draft a good hockey player. Look at the New Jersey Devils, and the Detroit Red Wings. They find talent, and it's never with a top-five or a top-ten pick. The New York Islanders should be lesson enough that if you finish at the bottom of the standings year after year, you're not guaranteed to climb out of the basement, no matter who you draft.
The Leafs are seven points out of a playoff spot. And there are 19 hockey games left to play. Call me crazy, but I believe there could be playoff hockey come this spring, yet.
Dare to dream, I say. Without hope, there is nothing.