Leafs 2 Caps 3...The Bubble Has Burst
The bubble officially burst on this Leafs season last night. Despite a valiant run dating back to the beginning of January, the little team that could, almost did...
With the Sabres dispensing with the Bolts, even a regulation win would fail to elevate their fortunes or propel them into post season contention.
Those cruel hockey gods offered precious little in the form of aid. As winger Clarke MacArthur opined, for a team to win so many games in the last few months and still fail to gain any ground at all is nothing short of maddening. “I'm running out of things to break”, he joked recently with local media.
All kidding aside, the fight was a good one, both last night, and for the last 2 and a half months. Watching a patchwork group of underachievers transform themselves in front of a rookie called Optimus, who has toiled in near obscurity in the Leafs system has been nothing short of a thrill-ride.
It has been some years since Leaf fans had anything to feel proud about, and although the knell has been knolled on this season, there is a pronounced sense of confidence among Leaf Nation. The cornball jokes about tee off times don't sting anymore. Chirps and not-so-clever quips don't invoke the same ire as they once did. We aren't as sensitive this time around...
We have a great leader emerging in Dion Phaneuf. Since the departure of Kaberle, Dion has made his mark all over the ice with huge hits, helpers , bold dashes from one end of the rink to the other, and timely goals. His shot selection, like his accuracy, has improved vastly. We have a future stud in Keith Aulie. full stop. The kid is a beast in every sense. Luke Schenn bounced back from a dreadful sophomore season, and led the league in hits and blocks by a defenseman. Many thought he was a bust...we also have three legitimate thirty-goal scorers, and at least one or two more on the way before too long. Both Lupul and Kadri will be expected to shoulder a bit of the load next season, and there is every indication that both former 7th overall picks have 30 goals in their sticks. This year, we'll have to settle with just three. I predict Grabovski tops out at 31 to win the team goal scoring title, as well as MVP for a ridiculously consistent season.
Toronto matched the Capitals in confidence and intensity all night, although the shot totals favoured the visitors by a wide margin. Reimer stopped 39 pucks, and his second effort and rebound control were outstanding. Without the kind of goaltending he has provided since emerging due to injury, today's water cooler conversations sound hella different. It's not just that he masks the team's vulnerabilities; he makes the team play harder. They play as a cohesive unit- focused, committed, and as a group that genuinely cares about each other. All the signs you want to see from a team poised to make noise in the near future.
Nik Kulemin and Joffrey Lupul scored for Toronto, and despite a 39-19 shot disparity, thanks to Reimer's efforts, it came down to a lone shootout goal by Mike Knuble to give the visitors sole possession of first in the conference.
I usually don't like to use the words 'we' and 'our' when discussing our Leafs. I try to maintain a degree of separation. Not today. I am proud to be called a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. I believe the table has been set for what is to come. All the signs point to a group that will be in the 7-5 range by this time next season.
Enjoy the final two games Leaf fans...