Mike Ulmer has worked for seven news organizations including the National Post and, most recently, the Toronto Sun. Mike has written about the Leafs for 10 years and wrote Captains, a book about the club's greatest leaders.
It only hurts when you stop.
That's what the Toronto Maple Leafs and their countless supporters were coping with Monday, a violent full stop initiated by the New York Islanders' shootout win over the New Jersey Devils, Sunday.
The decisions left the Leafs in ninth place, a point out of the post-season. Season over.
That it looked like disaster had been averted - the Devils scored with .7 seconds to send the game into overtime - only made the comedown harder.
Monday, individual Leafs emerged from meetings with team officials after one of the most tumultuous 24 hours in club history.
|Mats' 500th was one of the highlights for the Maple Leafs in 2006-07. |
(Graig Abel Photography)
"You know what? said defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo. "Everyone (in the dressing room) is still in shock."
Saturday, in a game they needed to stand a chance on Sunday, the Leafs hammered the Montreal Canadiens early, surrendered a 3-1 lead and rallied with three straight goals to eliminate the Canadiens 6-5. The week had brought critical losses against the New York Rangers and Islanders but the Leafs won nine straight at home to keep the playoffs within reach.
Coach Paul Maurice had little taste for consolation, Monday.
"I don't want to sit here today and start pumping positives out because I just don't feel overly positive today," he said. "I'm not going to list the good things. It's going to take three or four weeks to start to get separation from the grief to start to realize that there are, as in most situations, some fine things."
There are, of course.
The season brought Mats Sundin's 500th goal but while his linemates, particularly Nik Antropov, thrived, the Leafs captain didn't score after March 13.
Not that the Leafs captain had much time or inclination to savor a point-a-game (76 points in 75 games) season.
"It's frustrating, being 36 years old, missing the playoffs two years in a row at this stage of my career," Sundin conceded. "That said, last year and most of this season, I'm very proud of my own performance. As a group, we've been really fighting adversity. It was true last year but even more this year, we haven't had a full roster."
The league-leading man games lost to injury list included Darcy Tucker, gone for 26 games. Kyle Wellwood was lost for 34 games because of a sports hernia. Pavel Kubina missed 21 games with a knee injury and a knee injury and broken leg limited Mike Peca to 35 games in what might be his only Leafs season.
There were also periods of substantial rehabilitation for Nik Antropov, Tomas Kaberle and Alexei Ponikarovsky.
On the plus side, the Leafs got big-time performances from greenhorns Ian White, Colaiacovo and Wellwood and squeezed 72 games and 37 wins from 26-year-old goalie Andrew Raycroft.
"He was good. He wasn't great, but he is capable of being great." said Maurice. "The talent level is there. Now he can go home and know he's not getting ready to play 40 games this year. It's a completely different mindset for him."
Raycroft, pulled from his final home contest of the season after four Canadiens' goals in 20 shots, said it was a season of tremendous growth.
"I look forward to just building on this year," he said. "There were a lot of questions coming in whether I could even play. I think I proved I could and I answered those questions. I just look forward to getting better in the off season and having a better year next year."
Raycroft said there is no real preparation for playing for the Maple Leafs.
"It's an unbelievable place," he said. "As much as you think you know what it's about before you're here, you don't. You grow some thick skin. There's no way I could have played here three years ago but the experience is going to make me be a better player and definitely a better person."
The only common thread that came out of Monday's debriefing concerned the desire to finally complete what was so agonizingly cut short on the weekend.
"Toronto is my home," said Sundin. "I love being part of the organization. I love the challenge for this team to win a championship. Thank God you get a new chance every year.
"The challenge that the Toronto Maple Leafs haven't won a championship since 1967, I think, is a huge positive for motivation and to come back and get better every year."
Maurice said being connected with the Leafs was everything he thought it would be and so much more.
"I loved being a part of this team and some of the things that happened this year, some of the special ceremonies. But most important was the excitement that was built around this team. That was fantastic."