To be in the playoff race is to be in the playoffs, right up until the moment they tell you that you’re not.
That reality has both inspired and beset the Toronto Maple Leafs, flatliners in Thursday’s 4-0 loss in Florida, magnificent the night before in beating Carolina 3-1.
The life and death nature of each game, says Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson, produces such wildly divergent performances.
“It wears on you,” he said Firday after a lighthearted practice. “Every game is a must-win but then you lose a game and you find you are still in it. The great thing is the experience you get.”
For players and coaches, this is the lockdown season. Phone calls go unreturned. Family is shooed away.
To qualify for the post season, it figures the Leafs must win eight out of their final 10 games and hope for a little help. They have not managed that feat all year, but beginning with Saturday’s home date against Boston they have the chance to set things right.
Until they learn otherwise, the Leafs exist in a bubble reserved for late-season hockey.
“Everything else you cut out,” said defenceman Carl Gunnarsson
. “We are all competitive people. This is the time you see how much heart you have. Everything is geared to hockey and your family and friends know that.”
“You put everything on the backburner,” said goalie James Reimer
. “I think you need the right balance and the right blend of things that are and aren’t hockey-related, but when your family says they want to come and visit you, you have to tell them to stay away.”
“I try to forget about my cellphone, I stop reading the newspaper,” said center Mikhail Grabovski
. “If I am doing something that is working I try to do it more. Your team is together.”
“I can tell you more when we make it. Right now it’s a dream.”Notes:
Leafs coach Ron Wilson said he wasn’t surprised by the criticism that followed his decision to use Jean-Sebastien Giguere over Reimer in Wednesday’s 4-0 loss in Florida. Giguere had not started a game in a month but “if I had gone to Reimer people would have said ‘why would you play Reimer again?’ Shame on me for using a Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe-winning goalie who until he got injured was our number one goalie.” Colby Armstrong
’s hard-luck season is over. Armstrong suffered a broken bone in his foot when hit by a shot Monday against Tampa. So far Armstrong has had a dislocated finger, a broken finger, a broken foot, a deep bruise after being punched in the eye and now the latest foot injury. Armstrong would not completely write off the season. “We’ll have to see how we do down the stretch. It’s always possible I could be back."
Rookie Nazem Kadri
should be back in the lineup against Boston although it will be tough for him to generate much offence between muckers Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb
Defenceman Mike Komisarek
is not expected to face Boston because of a groin injury.
Six of the Leafs 10 games will be played on the road. In that stretch they have only one back-to-back set of games, April 5 at home against Washington and the next evening in New Jersey. The Leafs regular season ends April 9 with a home date against Montreal.
Hot and cold Phil Kessel
has just one goal in his last eight games. The Leafs continue to search for a productive centre for the top line but so far Kadri hasn’t shown enough to warrant a try. In the two games since his callup Kadri has managed just one shot. “We had one line with only one good scoring chance the last two games,” Wilson said of Kadri’s arrival. “We are just trying to shake things up.”
Tomas Kaberle returns to the Air Canada Centre Saturday for the first time since his trade. In 12 games with the Bruins, Kaberle has registered 10 shots, no goals, two assists and is a plus three.