by John McCauley
April 15, 2005
(TORONTO) -- The Maple Leafs team that had gelled so much over the past 10 games, watched together in shock and disappointment as Martin St. Louis ended their season over 2000 kilometres away in Tampa Bay.
The NHL's previous MVP scored with just 10 seconds left in overtime to earn a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes and eliminated the Blue and White from playoff contention.
It wasn't the way the team wanted their post-season hopes to end.
In many ways it might have been easier if Toronto hadn't beat the Ottawa Senators 5-1 on Saturday night. At least it would have been as a result of something they couldn't accomplish, but to lose out on a chance at the Stanley Cup with absolutely no control seemed more difficult.
"Obviously you want to be able to control your own destiny," said Darcy Tucker. "It seems like it is all for naught right now. We just had too many games to make up in too few games."
The Lightning now have 92 points and 43 wins. Toronto can reach the 92-point plateau with victories in its final two games, but only gaining 42 wins in the process and therefore would lose the tie-breaker.
"We did everything we needed to do but we didn't get any help from anyone," said J.S. Aubin, who is still undefeated as the Leafs netminder.
Head coach Pat Quinn was disappointed in the results but had praise for his youth-injected team.
"Our guys did a heck of a job, but the other teams did a good job too," said Pat Quinn. "I'm proud of how they handled themselves down the stretch. We we're the makers of our own destiny. Our guys learned some things about themselves. Lots of these kids have made great strides in the last three weeks."
The veteran benchboss wanted some time to truely access what went wrong with this team, but when cornered he pointed at the long losing stretch they suffered starting on Saturday, January 14th. Toronto was up 4-0 nothing on a weak Phoenix Coyote team but a complete implosion resulted in 4-3 loss and started a seven-game winless skid.
Things didn't get much better after a slow start back after the Olympic break, but after injuries to Jason Allison, Ed Belfour, Alexei Khavanhov opened up spots for some of the kids to play more and suddenly the team wasn't making as many ghastly errors.
As a result, Aubin earned a new one-year contract with his stellar play. Matt Stajan has been on fire since moving to centre. Alex Steen has been just as good and they seemed to bring Jeff O'Neill out of his poor play, which had made him a healthy scratch more this year than in any other. Kyle Wellwood continues to gain confidence. Ian White has been a solid contributor on the blueline.
It all comes back to the Captain though and he did everything possible to get his team into the playoffs. Sundin likes the way the kids are playing even though it wasn't enough.
"What do you say. It's a tough way to be out of the playoffs," said Sundin. "I'm proud of our team. I'm proud of our young guys. The future looks good, I think, for this team."