The Toronto Maple Leafs head into Boston to play the Bruins Thursday with a riddle on their minds.
When is a loss not a loss?
The answer, believe it or not, is when it comes in overtime.
Since it was adopted in 1999, the system to award one point for a tie, even when it accompanies an overtime loss, did more than make the standings harder to read.
It muddied the waters between what is a loss and what isn’t.
Traditionally, a loss meant zero points. It was often accompanied by a crushing disappointment.
Now, players say losing in overtime can hurt more than losing in regulation, even if the overtime loss brings the consolation of a point in the standings. This is especially germane to the Maple Leafs, who are a terrible 1-5 in games decided in overtime or the shootout.
Tuesday, the Leafs dropped a heartbreaker to Montreal thanks to an errant Bryan McCabe pass converted into a breakaway goal by Mike Komisarek
in the first minute of overtime. “Winning is still winning,” said Leafs defenceman Hal Gill.
“When you play the game, you get caught up in it. You don’t care about points, you want to win.
“We can look at it today and say we got a point, but that’s a next-day thing. Nobody likes to lose, a tie doesn’t cut it and a loss in overtime is worse.”
Gill sometimes pines for the old days where after a five-minute overtime period, everyone went home with a point.
“I would go back,” if I could. “I like the fact that when you’re playing in overtime it counts. Five minutes, no one wins, call it a tie. If you lose in overtime, you lost the game.”
“The point is key,” agrees winger Jason Blake, “But your main objective for the whole day is to win the hockey game. A loss is a loss, doesn’t matter how you look at it.”
The Leafs, 7-7-5, face the 8-6-2 Bruins, Thursday night.
“Boston is playing a solid brand of hockey,” said Leafs winger Darcy Tucker who credited the club’s turnaround to coach Claude Julien.
“He keeps the guys focused very well, they’ve got some d-men like Zdeno Chara who can play really well down low. We have a good test there. We have to be as patient or more patient than they are.”
Leafs’ coach Paul Maurice said the Canadiens loss did more than bring home a point. The club showed an ability to play solid hockey for long periods against a premium opponent.
“When your hockey team hits its stride, it understands how it plays. In the second and third periods, there were long stretches of that period we played the hockey we want to play consistently.
In our last three games, we’ve outchanced the other team and had more control that we’d seen before."
While the end of the Canadiens game on McCabe’s grievous giveaway still stings. Maurice sees progress.
“Parts of his game are so much better since he’s been back (from injury). He’s starting to hit again in his own end and move the puck more simply and get his shot off more on the power play.”