Toronto Maple Leafs Continue to Prove Critics Wrong
Many people doubted the Toronto Maple Leafs heading into the 2013 playoffs but as the team is showing, those who did were wrong to look down on them.
You may first ask yourself what the heck that's supposed to mean when the Maple Leafs find themselves down three games to one. After all, how could a team facing elimination in game five be doing so well?
The Maple Leafs' pre-playoff "haters" certainly had reason to put the team in a negative light at least when it came to their first round matchup. Facing the Boston Bruins, Toronto's chances at advancing to the second round were noticed as being slim-to-none before the puck even dropped on game one. Now as game five approaches, those chances still aren't looking all too great. However, that doesn't mean it hasn't been one heck of a series.
If the 2013 playoffs have shown us anything it's that the Maple Leafs are for real. After getting dominated by the Bruins during the 2011-2012 season, Toronto played much better against Boston during the 2013 regular season. They have carried this into the playoffs and although they are down by a wide margin and may not have deserved to qualify for the playoffs in the first place, the Leafs have shown to be a team that is on the up-and-up.
One of the main reasons why few people believed in the Maple Leafs at the beginning of the playoffs was that they are a young team with very limited playoff experience. Much to the surprise of those disbelievers, the Leafs have been able to hold their own.
Game four had hockey fans ─ not just Toronto hockey fans ─ jumping about why and how the Maple Leafs deserved to win. A two-goal first period gave them a 2-0 lead after twenty minutes but they just fell short in overtime off a goal that many have since blamed on Dion Phaneuf after he stepped up at the blue line in an attempt to lay down a big hit, costing the Maple Leafs a scoring chance the other way that David Krejci capitalized on.
Games two and three were also well fought by the Buds. They stuck with the Bruins in both games, even managing a victory in the second contest. One of the reasons why the Maple Leafs have been able to keep pace for the most part is the play of goaltender James Reimer.
The Maple Leafs' rumoured pursuit of Miikka Kiprusoff prior to the trade deadline was well-documented. Reimer's lack of NHL playoff experience ─ literally none whatsoever ─ was undoubtedly the driving force behind it. Luckily for the Maple Leafs they haven't needed a veteran goalie such as Kiprusoff or Roberto Luongo due to Reimer's impressive play.
The 25-year-old Reimer owns a goals against average of 3.33 through the first four games of the series. Don't let that mislead you, though; his .914 save percentage ─ a better indicator of the success of an NHL goaltender ─ is greater than that of what Kiprusoff has averaged over his last three post-seasons.
If a goaltender can deal with the pressure of leading a team in a market like Toronto through its first playoff appearance in nine years without getting too rattled, imagine how said goaltender would play in any other playoff year. Pretty well.
Reimer isn't the only player who has proven the have the ability to handle the pressures of playing playoff hockey in Toronto. Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk, Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson have all played well, as has Phil Kessel, who was expected to struggle against his former team.
A team expected to get swept and even destroyed by the Bruins according to the opinions of a number of hockey fans, the Toronto Maple Leafs have proven their critics wrong. And with a roster full of young talent, the Maple Leafs will be back next season more experienced and likely more highly skilled assuming GM Dave Nonis is able to attract improved talent to the city.
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