TORONTO - As the Toronto Maple Leafs seek answers that aren't coming, they're left to watch, wait and hope.
That's all they can do, as zero points in eight games has relegated them to that fate.
"We went from a position where we were in control of our destiny now to sitting at home cheering against other teams," winger Joffrey Lupul said. "It's tough to sit around every night and hope for other teams to keep losing because it's asking a lot."
With six games left, the Leafs realistically must win all of their remaining games to give themselves a chance to make the playoffs. And even that's no guarantee, given the extra opportunities the Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals have to surpass 92 points, the most Toronto can reach.
After a 4-2 loss to the Red Wings on Saturday night all but ended his team's chances, captain Dion Phaneuf didn't want to consider what the Leafs had to accomplish to do the near-impossible: beat the Calgary Flames, Boston Bruins, Winnipeg Jets, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators all in a row.
"I don't think you look at it in that big a picture because when you look at it in that big a picture, it's...," Phaneuf said, trailing off. "If you ask me at game 20 if we're looking five games down the road, I'd have to say no, and this is no different. You can't look past Tuesday."
Tuesday against Calgary is one more chance for the Leafs to end a season-altering losing streak. But it's not against a team they're competing with for a spot, which made Saturday night the tipping point.
Again the Leafs were, in coach Randy Carlyle's words, "chasing the game." And once again, they couldn't catch up.
"I haven't got an explanation for it other than the fact that it just seemed that everything that we've been doing, or the body of work that we put in early in the game, we weren't able to maintain it and carry it into the last half of the hockey game," he said.
Any momentum the Leafs built up from going 15-4-3 from Jan. 12 through March 13 has been completely halted. Toronto has been outscored 32-18 over the eight-game skid with each loss coming in regulation time.
"It's different reasons all the time. If it was one thing, we'd correct it," Lupul said. "The other team's trying to win too. You've got to play well this time of year to win, and sometimes it's just been poor execution, sometimes it's been defensive lapses, other times other teams played really well.
"But it's our job to win hockey games, and we haven't been able to do it. Lots of these games we're watching video and we're working, we're looking, we're skating and we're just not getting results."
At times, the Leafs' play has been better than it was in victories in October and November, when Carlyle had to temper optimism because the results were more positive than they should have been.
By late Saturday night, the Leafs would've happily taken a bad game and a victory or even a point of any kind. Instead, defenceman Cody Franson was left explaining that it wasn't like he and his teammates were playing "bad hockey," and goaltender Jonathan Bernier was answering to the lack of luck ??? or the "hockey gods" ??? lately.
"When you lose whatever seven, eight in a row, you really usually don't have the hockey gods on your side, that's for sure," Bernier said.
Not much is on the Leafs' side right now, most notably the schedule. Their best way to stay in the Eastern Conference race was to beat the Red Wings in regulation, and not doing so made Lupul consider this the first time "things are probably looking a little bleak."
"Obviously the skid was bad, but other teams kept losing as we went along and coming into this game we knew we pretty much had to have (it)," he said. "Not to say that other teams won't continue to lose, but it's a lot to ask, and all we can really control right now is winning the rest of our games and we've got to have every single one of them."
And get plenty of help along the way.
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